For more than a century, members of the Boy Scouts of America have sworn to uphold the values of Scout Law—the code of scouting chivalry that requires its adherents to be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent” to all they encounter.
On Monday evening, however, President Donald Trump used the backdrop of more than 35,000 Scouts celebrating the organization’s quadrennial Jamboree to fixate on just one value: loyalty. Specifically, how little he feels it in the nation’s capital.
“As the Scout Law says, a Scout is trustworthy, loyal,” Trump said, pausing dramatically. “We could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.”
Over the course of a freewheeling 40-minute speech, the president complained numerous times about “fake news,” bragged about his Electoral College victory nine months ago, threatened to fire Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, and encouraged the assembled teens and pre-teens to boo President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
“Tonight we put aside all of the policy fights in Washington, D.C., you’ve been hearing about with the fake news,” Trump said at the beginning of his speech at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Mount Hope, West Virginia. “We’re gonna put that aside and instead we’re going to talk about success.”
But despite earlier promises to avoid the subject of politics—after all, the president said, “who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?”—the president quickly wandered from the stated theme of this speech toward a more familiar form of public address. Trump’s keynote address at the Jamboree, a week-and-a-half-long celebration of scouting held every four years, became a celebration of Trump himself.
“Do you remember that famous night on television, November 8th?” Trump asked the crowd at one point, referring to election night, as chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” echoed around him. “Do you remember that incredible night, with the maps?”
“You know, I go to Washington and I see all these politicians, and I see the swamp, and it’s not a good place,” he continued. “In fact, today I said, ‘We ought to change it from the word “swamp” to the word “cesspool” or perhaps to the word “sewer,”’ but it’s not good. Not good. And I see what’s going on. And believe me, I’d much rather be with you.”
His election victory was, Trump said, “an unbelievable tribute to you and all of the other millions and millions of people that came out and voted for Make America Great Again.”
Trump—who, unlike Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, and John F. Kennedy—was never a member of the Boy Scouts, excoriated his predecessor for not making an in-person appearance at the Jamboree.
“By the way, just a question: Did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree?” Trump asked, reaching out his hands to elicit boos from the audience. According to the BSA, Trump is the eighth of 11 sitting presidents to make an in-person appearance at a Jamboree, with Obama appearing by video in 2010.
Trump, in addition to vowing to the assembled elementary, middle, and high school students that they would be “saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” made another policy pledge in threatening to fire Price—a former Boy Scout himself—if Congress does not repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“Are you gonna get the votes? He better get them,” Trump told the Scouts as Price joined him onstage. “He better get them. Oh, he better! Otherwise I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.’ I’ll get somebody.”
Even Trump’s more traditional lines for addressing a group of adolescents focused on values more reflective of Trump Law than Scout Law.
“As much as you can, do something that you love, work hard, and never, ever give up,” Trump said, “and you’re going to be tremendously successful, tremendously successful.”
Apparently triggered by the word “momentum,” Trump meandered into a five-minute digression about seeing real-estate developer William Levitt at a party once. Levitt died in 1994 at age 86.
“In the end, he failed and he failed badly,” Trump said. “Lost all of his money. He went personally bankrupt. And he was now much older, and I saw him at a cocktail party and it was very sad because the hottest people in New York were at this party, and I see sitting in the corner, was a little old man who was all by himself—nobody was talking to him—I immediately recognized that that man was the once great William Levitt of Levittown.”
“He lost his momentum, meaning he took this period of time off long, years, and then when he got back, he didn’t have the same momentum,” Trump said. “In life, I always tell this to people. You have to know whether or not you continue to have the momentum. And if you don’t have it that’s OK.”
In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, the Boy Scouts of America emphasized that the organization is “wholly non-partisan and does not promote any one position, product, service, political candidate or philosophy.”
Trump’s invitation to visit the Jamboree, the BSA elaborated, “is a long-standing tradition and is in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies.”