“I’m not entirely sure what’s going on but it seems to involve boy scouts and fascism.” – A blogger’s take on the 1943 film Keeper of the Flame directed by George Cukor that tells the story of a journalist’s research into a proto-fascist youth organization, not unlike the boy scouts (the Boy Scouts of America actually have a “Keepers of the Flame” organization to provide funding support for some of its work).
Well, yesterday U.S. President Donald J. Trump went to the 19th National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia and addressed a crowd of 40,000 young scouts, and apparently, potential future Trump voters.
The Boy Scouts of America, a national non-profit, was quick to distance itself from Trump’s remarks, stating: “The Boy Scouts of America is wholly non-partisan and does not promote any position, product, service, political candidate or philosophy.”
But the damage to the young minds was already done. Trump’s attacks on the media and his opponent in the presidential campaign were met with cheers from the crowd, who had been cautioned in advance “to be ‘courteous’ and refrain from chanting phrases like ‘lock her up.’”
Trump’s comments sounded more like a campaign rally than a talk to future young leaders. He even thanked them for their votes in the 2016 election (even though most of the audience was between eleven and eighteen years old), saying: “So I have to tell you what we did, in all fairness, this is 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.”
But perhaps most frightening was his announcement of plans to apparently revisit the separation between church and state: “And by the way, under the Trump administration you’ll be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again when you go shopping, believe me. . .They’ve been downplaying that little beautiful phrase. You’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again, folks.”
Not everyone was pleased with Trump’s performance. According to the BBC, “One parent wrote: ‘Done with scouts after you felt the need to have my kid listen to a liar stroke his ego.’” Former CBS anchor Dan Rather tweeted: “Donald Trump’s speech in front of the Boy Scouts of America was not only highly inappropriate. It was disgusting.”
In the World War II-era anti-fascist film, the character of Doctor Fielding (played by Frank Craven) explains why so many may have been allured to the demagogue: “Hero fever, I call it. Very modern . . . And the young get it the worst of all.”
But, in the film’s final scene, journalist Steven O’Malley (played by Spencer Tracy) explains: “He wasn’t their hero, he was their enemy, and they must know it. They must know what their enemies over there can do to heroes over here.”
In his 1997 book The Hollywood Propaganda of World War II, author Robert Fyne says the film is a “strong warning to the American people about demagoguery, domestic fascism, and mind control, while praising the virtues of freedom of the press.”
Perhaps O’Malley was anticipating Trump’s Monday audience when he said: “Sometimes they act like children when you get them scared or confused. But down in their hearts they know they’re not afraid. They want the truth and they can take it. You can’t lie to them.”
Norman Stockwell is publisher of The Progressive. Previously, for over 20 years, he served as WORT Community Radio’s Operations Coordinator in Madison, Wisconsin. He also coordinated the IraqJournal website in 2002-2003. In 2011, he regularly reported on protests in Madison for Iran’s PressTV and other outlets. His reports and interviews have appeared on Free Speech Radio News, DemocracyNow!, and AirAmerica, and in print in Z Magazine, the Capital Times, AlterNet, Toward Freedom, the Tico Times, the Feminist Connection, and elsewhere. He is co-editor of the book REBEL REPORTING: John Ross Speaks to Independent Journalists. Hamilton Books/Rowman-Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7618-6660-2.