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 said. “Since then, an invitation to speak has been extended to every U.S. President that has had a Scout Jamboree occur during his term.”
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.’ 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 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.
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 Scouts: “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.