Sasso: Trump missed opportunity to inspire

(Indianapolis Star, August 1, 2017)

Boy Scouts make three pledges: duty to God and country, to other people and to self. Duty to self, defined by U.S. Scouting, involves living a life of honesty, being clean in speech and action, and being a person of strong character. Scouts value good citizenship, integrity and compassion.

President’s Donald Trump address to the Scouting Jamboree was deeply troubling. His talk to 45,000 adolescent boys did nothing to elevate those values. Instead of promoting good citizenship, he said, “You know I go to Washington, and I see all these politicians, and I see the swamp, and it’s not a good place. In fact, today, I said we ought to change it from the word ‘swamp’ to ‘cesspools’ or perhaps the word ‘sewer.’”

So much for encouraging engagement in good government and service to country.

Instead of fostering humility, Trump touted the size of the crowd and his win in November. He denigrated others and the free press. Honesty lost once again to “fake news.”

Instead of encouraging respect of past leaders of state who have served our country, he mocked President Barack Obama and criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Instead of presenting life models of courage and dignity, he spoke of a rich friend who bought a yacht and “had a very interesting life.” Trump went on to explain, “I won’t go any more than that, because you’re Boy Scouts, so I’m not going to tell you what he did (in it). Should I tell you? Should I tell you? You’re Boy Scouts, but you know life. You know life.” So much for thoughtful wisdom for pubescent boys and respect for women.

Instead of nurturing inclusivity and respect for diversity of religious faiths, he said, “And, by the way, under the Trump administration you’ll be saying, ‘Merry Christmas’ again when you go shopping.” So much for remembering that the Christmas message is not about consumerism and acknowledging that Scouts come from many religions and celebrate different sacred days.

Days after the Scout speech, Trump tweeted that he would no longer allow transgender individuals to serve in the military. He must have forgotten that the new policy of the Boy Scouts is more enlightened. It accepts transgender boys.

Whoever has the honor of speaking to young people should know better than to boast, denigrate and demean. The charge is to challenge, encourage and inspire.

The messages that our youth receive on a daily basis are: “What you have is never enough.” “Keep nagging and you will get what you want.” “Fit in at all costs.” “How you look matters more than who you are.” Young people need adults who counter those messages.

An address to a group of Scouts might consider the following advice:

Be strong, but remember that strength has nothing to do with physical prowess or bravado. The greatest signs of strength are self-control and resilience. It takes a strong person to be gentle. Bullies are not strong; they’re afraid.

Be courageous, but remember that courage isn’t about not being afraid; it is, as the Hoosier singer Carrie Newcomer has taught, “about loving something enough to brave the scary parts.”

Be careful what you do with your words. You can use them to tear people down or to lift them up. It is easier to attack people than to inspire them. Choose respect over disparagement.

Be kind. Life sometimes leads us to cynicism. Bad experiences, mean people and unfortunate luck can make you angry or compassionate. Remember, both graciousness and hate have the power to change the world. You can choose what you want your legacy to be.

Young people are impressionable. They deserve to be inspired so that they might aspire; to be challenged so that they might achieve; to hope so that they might flourish.

Our president missed the opportunity.

Sasso is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck and director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Butler University.