A politically charged speech from President Donald Trump at the Boy Scouts of America’s National Jamboree included attacks on former President Barack Obama as well as a nod to a businessman who promoted segregation.
The president’s words drew a firestorm of national attention and prompted a response from the organization itself.
In a release titled “BSA Perspective on Presidential Visits to the National Jamboree,” the Boy Scouts of America describes itself as “wholly nonpartisan,” adding that it “does not promote any one political position, candidate or philosophy.”
“The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition dating back to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937,” the statement continues. “Since then, an invitation to speak has been extended to every U.S. President that has had a Scout Jamboree occur during his term.”
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Toward the beginning of his remarks Trump said, “I said, who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts”
However, he quickly broke tradition and took the time as an opportunity to spread his political agenda as well as praise a man with a legacy deeply rooted in racism.
Trump told a story about William Levitt, a builder who provided “cookie cutter” homes during the baby boomer and post World War II eras to Americans at affordable prices. Such areas became referred to as “Levittowns,” and the first successful one was located in Long Island. Levitt’s homes were particularly appealing to returning veterans and their families who were seeking affordable housing.
Trump recalled meeting Levitt at a party that was attended by “the hottest people in New York,” in the president’s words.
Trying to tie the meeting to some career advice for the young boys, Trump said that Levitt told him, “Donald, I lost my momentum.”
“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 okay.”
But Levitt’s “momentum” had a questionable history, as he refused to sell homes to minorities.
“[Levitt] really built decent housing for a lot of people who otherwise could not have been homeowners,” Herbert J. Gans, a retired Columbia University sociologist, told NJ.com in a 2008 interview. 2008 marked the 50th anniversary of Levitt’s construction in Willingboro, N.J., where Gans was one of the earlier people to purchase one of Levitt’s homes. “He was very good at affordable housing.”
But according to Gans, who wrote a book about suburban life in a Levittown home, “The bad thing was that it was lily white.”
Eugene Burnett, a military veteran who waited in line to buy one of Levitt’s homes, was turned away because he is Black.
“The anniversary leaves me cold,” Burnett told the New York Times in 1997, the 50-year anniversary of the first Levittown that was built in Long Island.
“It’s symbolic of segregation in America,” he said. “That’s the legacy of Levittown.”
In addition to promoting the legacy of a segregationist during his speech, Trump also made time to criticize his predecessor.
“By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree” Trump asked the crowd.
“The answer is no,” he added.
Obama did not attend a National Jamboree during his presidency. He did, however, record a video message for the 2010 gathering, which was also the year of the Boy Scouts’ centennial celebration.
His message, starkly different from that of the current president, said, in part:
“You know, for a century, scouts just like you have served your communities and your nation in ways both large and small. During World War II, scouts played a vital role in supporting the war effort at home by running messages and selling war bonds. Some of our nation’s greatest heroes have worn the scout uniform, including 11 of the 12 men who have walked on the moon. And today, scouts across the country continue the tradition of collecting food for those in need, improving our neighborhoods, and reaching out to those less fortunate.”
And, according to The Voice of Scouting, “Barack Obama was not a part of the Boy Scouts of America; rather, he was a member of Gerakan Pramuka, the Indonesian Scout Association, and was the equivalent of a Cub Scout.”
“President Donald J. Trump was never involved in the Boy Scouts as a youth,” the organization adds, noting that his first involvement with the organization was in fact at the jamboree.
Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show” who also spoke at DiversityInc’s Top 50 event in May, spoke about the speech the day after on his show.
After calling Trump “America’s most powerful adolescent,” Noah said:
“Most presidents have used their jamboree speech to put politics aside and talk to the children about civics and serving the community. But as we keep learning over and over again, Donald Trump is not most presidents.”
Noah said Trump resembled “a drunk stepdad” more than a president.
“But Trumpdidhave an actual message for the Boy Scouts,” he said. “And needless to say, it was completely inappropriate for the Boy Scouts.”
Referring to Trump’s tale about partying on a yacht with Levitt, Noah questioned, “Did this guy just regale 40,000 pre-teen boys with the tale of an old real estate mogul having yacht sex Is that what he did”
People who participated in the Scouts as boys, some of whom went on to take on leadership roles, took to social media to express their disdain for the president’s remarks.
This is nauseating. I’m an Eagle Scout and a former scoutmaster. The BSA was never partisan. https://t.co/T6W2jGx8eE
Dan Kennedy (@dankennedy_nu) July 24, 2017
As a Scout leader, my stomach is in knots about what Trump did today. If you haven’t watched it yet, don’t. It’s downright icky.
Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) July 25, 2017
Parents of Scouts expressed their disdain as well.
My son is a Boy Scout, too. I am glad he is at camp in CA and not at Jamboree. That was horrifying.
Mirren (@newhall89) July 25, 2017
Lori (@seagal_lori) July 24, 2017
Leila Rice (@Leila_A_Rice) July 25, 2017