UPDATE 2 — 7/27, 3:17 p.m. EDT: Boy Scouts of America executive Michael Surbaugh released a letter Thursday apologizing for President Trump’s speech at the organization’s national gathering in West Virginia earlier this week, admitting his politically-motivated remarks “overshadowed” the jamboree.
“These character-building experiences have not diminished in recent days at the jamboree — Scouts have continued to trade patches, climb rock walls, and share stories about the day’s adventures,” he wrote. “For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.”
UPDATE — 7/27, 10:13 a.m. EDT: In an interview with the Associated Press Wednesday, Boy Scouts of America president and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said he expected President Trump’s Monday address in West Virginia to be politically-themed.
“Anyone knows his speeches get highly political — we anticipated that this could be the case,” he said. “Do I wish the president hadn’t gone there and hadn’t been political? Of course.”
Prior to the speech, the organization issued “stringent guidelines” to those in attendance, which encouraged tepid reactions to any controversial statements made by the president: “This includes understanding that chants of certain phrases heard during the campaign (e.g. ‘build the wall,’ ‘lock her up’) are considered divisive by many members of our audience, and may cause unnecessary friction between individuals and units.”
President Trump traveled to the hills of central West Virginia on Monday to address 40,000 people at the National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve. Although the speech elicited numerous rousing cheers from the audience, the political nature of Trump’s remarks has been roundly criticized on social media by parents and Boy Scout leaders.
While Trump started by asking rhetorically, “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?”, much of the speech’s 38 minutes was tinged with political rhetoric and jabs at perceived opponents.
The president, for example, used the Jamboree address to push Obamacare reform legislation, preemptively criticize the media for not reporting the massive crowd size and call Washington a “sewer” and a “cesspool”.
While the media has focused on the outrageous aspects of Trump’s speech as highlighted above, the president also acknowledged both personal and patriotic values of the Boy Scouts and noted 10 Cabinet members who were Scouts — including Vice President Pence and State Secretary Tillerson — the latter, who once-served as president of the national organization, having invited Trump to the event.
Official Boy Scout policy discourages members from participating in political activities, however, which prompted one registered Republican and former Eagle Scout to condemn the president’s remarks.
“I just don’t think it was appropriate,” said Rob Romalewski, a retired IT expert from Louisiana. “It just doesn’t seem like he was talking to the boys. . . . He was more or less just using it as an excuse to babble on.”
Former adviser to President Obama and nuclear weapons expert, Jon Wolfsthal, took the criticism one step further in a Tweet following the speech’s conclusion.
— Jon (((Wolfsthal))) (@JBWolfsthal) July 25, 2017
Responding to the backlash, the Boy Scouts of America issued a statement Tuesday reiterating it is a “wholly non-partisan,” organization and the “invitation to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition and is in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies.”
Donald Trump is the eighth U.S. president to speak at the Jamboree, a national gathering of Boy Scout troops from across America held every four years.
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