Dr. Dawg

Boy Scouts of America and the gathering storm

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President Donald Trump addresses the Boy Scouts of America in his own peculiar way, and no one is really surprised—the shock of the man wore off long ago. Trump is an idiot child, all Id, no superego. He was just being himself.

The lede, though, at least partially buried in most accounts, was how the Boy Scouts responded. They booed mentions of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They cheered the POTUS on. As an audience, they were in the palm of his hand.

Nor should this surprise us either.

The Boy Scouts, after all, are a regimented organization with distinct paramilitary resonances, even if arms are not carried during their parade drills. They began that way under “mildly fascist” Lord Baden-Powell, who once extended a friendly hand to the Hitler Youth. In fact Baden-Powell rather enjoyed Adolf’s best-seller: “Lay up all day. Read Mein Kampf. A wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation etc.—and ideals which Hitler does not practise himself.” (Perhaps he skipped over all that stuff about the Jews—or not.) As for Mussolini, “the Duce realises that if his Fascist revolution is to live its permanence will largely depend on the moulding of the men of tomorrow.”

Obviously this is not to say that the Boy Scouts of America is a fascist organization. But if we step back a bit, we can see that the same notions of male physical prowess, militarism, flag-waving nationalism, hierarchy and obedience to authority infuse the BSA: the difference is really one of degree. The echoes up through Scouting history reveal no reversals. There is a certain consistency of doctrine, from its Ur-origin as a genuinely paramilitary group during the Boer War (the Mafeking Cadet Corps, which gave Baden-Powell many of his ideas) up to the present day.

Trump played to this set of values, and (as he invariably does) he wove in the notion of opposition. Nazi theorist Carl Schmitt would have understood perfectly: “[T]he specific political distinction, he wrote in The Concept of the Political, “is that between friend and enemy.” It’s a distinction that is rarely absent from Trump’s speeches (and Tweets), and which imbues his politics.

The boys ate it all up, primed by their organizational values to do so. Of course there was a backlash: horrified parents started withdrawing their kids from the BSA, and the BSA issued a self-serving apology for damage control.

That’s reassuring, but not entirely so. We got another peek there at the dark side of the Trump presidency, of its potential for grievous harm, of an ideological infection that seems to spread so easily through the American body politic.

And there is no sign that the fever is breaking. Trump is suffering his reversals and continual well-justified ridicule, but he’s in power, and he will be for the foreseeable future. The next step, if history is any guide, is to turn his attention to external enemies:

Gustave Gilbert: In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Hermann Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Cynical but perspicacious words from a Nazi top dog, who knew what the hell he was talking about. Be prepared.

* Jeal, Tim [1989]. Baden-Powell. London: Hutchinson.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on July 28, 2017 11:29 AM.

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