Trump supporters thwart Boy Scout ethics at camp


Leland Culver, Guest Columnist

In the year since Donald Trump became President of the United States amid a wave of populist fervor, he rapidly became one of the most divisive and controversial presidents in American history. His base regularly gets riled up at his rallies, and there are heart-wrenching videos and controversies surrounding the hate that his presidency has inspired. Last summer, I experienced that hate at my summer camp with the Boy Scouts of America.

The Boy Scouts is a youth group organization with a mission “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”

My troop is based in Chesterton, Indiana, about an hour from Lab. In contrast to other troops in the area, the disposition of Troop 929 is fairly liberal, and it is filled with compassionate and personable people.

Scouting in general had never been a politically charged atmosphere for me until the 2016 election, when I was relieved to find that almost all of the friends in my troop supported Hillary Clinton. There was political discussion at our meetings, but it always stayed to the level of a friendly debate.

Then, last year, the troop decided to go to a new place for summer camp, deep in central Indiana. At this camp were dozens of vocal supporters of the president. Several Scouts from different troops walked around in bright red “Make America Great Again” hats. People made crude jokes about jailing Hillary Clinton or building a wall on the Mexican-American border. When they found out I was a liberal, their comments, while not directed at me, increased. The hate in their words was discouraging.

As a strong liberal I felt stranded in a hostile environment. Everything that people were saying about the American political climate, everything I read about Trump’s ardent and zealous supporters, every Trump rally I saw on TV, became real to me there. They were no longer abstract concepts.

Once, as I walked back to my camp, a large kid in a red hat approached me and asked pointedly, “Are you the liberal?” When I answered him, he laughed, walked on, and told his friend that he was disappointed he hadn’t gotten a rise out of me.

The experience was draining. Throughout the week I experienced a whirlwind of emotions: fear, confusion, fury, isolation, solidarity in the affirmation that my troop embodied none of this, abandonment by the camp who seemed willing to let this happen. Most of all, I felt despair that these people who were so young were already so hateful.

My troop will return to that camp this year. This will be the first year I have been with Troop 929 that I will not be going with them. Camp wasn’t supposed to be like this. Boy Scouts is strictly not a political organization, and the red “Make America Great Again” hat is definitely not part of the dress code. Yet the camp administration had no problem with what was going on. They seemed to turn a blind eye to it all.

We need to open the eyes we have blinded to these problems. Scouting is about instilling American morals in young people, and pluralism is a big part of that, which is not something that happens in a camp where only one man’s ideas are accepted.

Leland is a sophomore at Lab and an Eagle Scout  — the highest rank — in his Boy Scout troop.