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Trump speech to Boy Scout Jamboree elicits widespread criticism for its partisanship, and profanity

President Trump earned no merit badge for his address to the Boy Scouts of America on Monday evening.

The president got plenty of applause from the more than 30,000 Scouts, troop leaders and parents during his 38-minute speech at the National Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, W.Va., along with chants of "USA" and "Trump" and hearty boos at his references to former rival Hillary Clinton and his predecessor, President Obama.

To many, that was the problem.

Almost immediately, the 107-year-old organization was forced to respond to a barrage of complaints from former Scouts, other parents and the general public that Trump's speech, which was carried live at least in part on cable television networks, violated Scout values by its partisanship and, at his start, profanity.

In a statement to news organizations late Monday, the Boy Scouts said its invitation to the president to speak was "a longstanding tradition and is in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies."

Yet the protests kept coming Tuesday. On the Facebook page of the Boy Scouts of America, one woman wrote, "Since when does this organization get involved in politics? In fact, isn't it NOT allowed? Who let this happen? I can't believe the Boy Scouts booed a living American President."

"What kind of message does this send to scouts?" one critic asked. And a number of respondents echoed a man who posted, "My son and I, along with others I am sure, will be dropping out of Scouts due to supporting behavior that is contrary" to the Scouts' Mission Statement.

The organization did not respond to requests for additional comment.

The president began his remarks — falsely, it would turn out — by telling the enthusiastic throng of youths that he would leave "the policy fights" and "the fake news" aside for the moment.

Yet even in making that pledge, he went off-script: "I said, who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts?" 

Trump repeatedly departed from his prepared remarks on Scouts' honor and American values, either to take a shot at some political foe and the media or to relive the glory of his election victory, or both at once.

He took swipes not only at Clinton and Obama, but also at his fellow Republicans in Congress and, pointing toward reporters at the event, "these dishonest people."

Instead of a paean to public service typical of such events, the president told the teenagers that Washington, where his party controls both the White House and Congress, is "not a good place."

It's worse than a swamp — his usual metaphor — and actually is "a cesspool" or even "a sewer," he added.

The president recalled the "beautiful date" of Nov. 8, when he won the election — "Do we remember that date?" he asked, to applause. The television network maps were "so red" — for Republican state wins — "it was unbelievable," Trump added.

He recounted his against-the-odds electoral college tally of swing states, and castigated Clinton because she "didn't work hard." 

Though much of his audience was too young to vote, Trump gave the Scouts come credit for his triumph, calling his election "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 introduced his secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, and then threatened — jokingly, it seemed — to fire Price if he didn't wangle the votes to kill "this horrible thing known as Obamacare." He singled out West Virginia's Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who has criticized previous versions of the healthcare bill, alluding to the Scout Law tenet to be loyal.

"We could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that,"  he said.

After some Scouts broke into a chant of "We love Trump," he digressed to ask them, "By the way, just a question: Did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?" Many yelled "No!" and he concurred, "The answer is no."

Obama, who, unlike Trump, was a Scout as a boy, sent a video greeting to the National Jamboree in 2010, the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. For much of his presidency, the organization was the subject of controversy for not allowing gay people to be Scouts, troop leaders or employees. It opened the door to gay Scouts in 2013, and to gay adults in 2015.

According to the organization, Trump was the eighth of 11 presidents in its history to join the annual Jamboree, starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 to, most recently, George W. Bush in 2005. While Ronald Reagan never attended, his wife, Nancy Reagan, did.

A history of those past appearances and Obama's video remarks on the Scouts' website suggest Trump's address likely was unique for its political tinge. Others' speeches focused on the Scout Law, which commands that Scouts be "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."

In a long, confusing and suggestive digression, Trump spoke of a meeting years ago at a cocktail party with an aged William Levitt, the real estate pioneer of American suburbia who later went bankrupt. He told how Levitt had lived a fast life, with "a big yacht," adding, "I won't go any more than that because you're Boy Scouts, so I'm not going to tell you what he did."

He laughed, and many Scouts booed good-naturedly that the president wouldn't tell them more. Trump added of the washed-up Levitt, "It was very sad because the hottest people in New York were at this party."

By their chants, the Scouts, too, may have skirted close to violating the group's norms. Ahead of Trump's visit, organizers circulated word to troop leaders 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." 

Trump signaled most of his off-script asides by saying, "By the way," and his final such departure near the end of his speech seemed a bit out of sync with the steamy July day.

"And by the way," he told them, "under the Trump administration, you'll be saying, 'Merry Christmas' again when you go shopping. Believe me. Merry Christmas."

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