As President Donald Trump prepared to address the National Boy Scouts Jamboree, Atlanta mother Sherri Scott made sure her 15-year-old son went to listen.
“We told him we wanted him to stay and hear the speech because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Scott said. She expected “a positive message about America,” about “doing the right thing and making the right choices.”
But Scott didn’t get what she’d anticipated.
When the president stepped to the podium Monday evening, he asked an estimated crowd of 40,000 in West Virginia: “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?”
Now he’s facing criticism for breaking 80 years of presidential tradition by talking politics at the gathering.
He called the Affordable Care Act “horrible,” told Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to get the votes to replace Obamacare or “you’re fired,” and dinged former President Barack Obama for not attending the event.
Obama never came to the jamboree, which is held once every four years, because of since-changed policies barring gay Scouts and Scoutmasters.
The Boy Scouts of America issued a statement distancing itself from President Trump’s remarks, reminding the public that every president is the honorary leader of the organization and is invited to speak at the jamboree.
Scott, charter organization representative with Grant Park Boy Scout Troop 150, said she was disappointed Trump didn’t deliver the speech she expected for her son Spencer.
“All the presidents in the past have maintained that respect and civility for the office,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, making clear she wasn’t necessarily speaking for the troop. “It wasn’t very respectful to the Scouts and to the audience.”
For Hank Brake, a singer-songwriter whose Eagle Scout attends Georgia Gwinnett College, the uproar is another example of the left overreacting.
He said his son, Henry, who hopes to work for the FBI, loved the speech and was buoyed by Trump’s encouragement and praise of the Boy Scouts. The president was never a Scout, but boasted that many in his cabinet were, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence.
Brake said Trump could’ve skipped some of the political comments, such as the “you’re fired” remark to Price, but Brake knew the speaker well enough to see some fire coming.
“People need to realize Trump is Trump. He’s going to open his mouth and put his foot in it,” Brake said. “The issue is whether he’s going to choke on it.”
But Brake doesn’t mind as much as some when Trump bucks political correctness. He likes having a president who isn’t always beholden to the norms of today’s society, because Brake feels the country has been headed in the wrong direction.
Others detest the president’s comments.
In an open letter to Boy Scouts Chief Executive Mike Surbaugh, a DeKalb County woman described herself as a “Proud Scout Mom” and said she was horrified by Trump’s remarks.
“To say I am merely disappointed would be misguided,” the woman wrote in the letter, posted to her publicly-visible Facebook page. “To say I am angry would be a grievous understatement. I am livid to the point of being apoplectic.”
She and other parents said Boy Scout leaders, who didn’t require Scouts to attend the speech, should’ve done more to ensure the president stayed clear of the divisive language of his campaign rallies.
The president did offer some more typical remarks, showering the Scouts with praise and assuring them that success comes from hard work. But the campaign-rally talk often took over, and at times, the speech was more like a victory lap.
“We won Florida. We won South Carolina. We won North Carolina. We won Pennsylvania,” the president reminded the Scouts, some of whom applauded and chanted, “USA! USA! USA!”
Scott, for her part, wondered if Boy Scout leaders could’ve had a plan to somehow get the president back on track or cut his mic. She ultimately gave them a pass because they aren’t used to a president who doesn’t “act presidential” like his predecessors.
Trump isn’t past presidents. Even Brake, who supports many of Trump’s policies and whose son was proudly in the front row, said it remains unclear if the president “knows what the word tact is.”
“This is the world we live in,” Brake said, still satisfied to have a man like Trump leading it.