When George W. Bush addressed the Boy Scout jamboree in 2005, he gave the Scouts two pieces of advice: Listen to your mother, and remember to be true to your beliefs. Fifty-five years earlier, another president, Dwight Eisenhower, used the jamboree to talk about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship: "True patriotism places the public good above individual advantage. It is not tainted by false pride in might, in size, in overwhelming power."
Donald Trump chose to stand in front of thousands of Scouts and talk about "the hottest people" at a New York party, the fake-news media, the size of his electoral college win and how he might fire the secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, who just happened to be on stage with him. "Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts?" he asked, before doing exactly that. Certainly not the previous seven presidents who'd spoken at jamborees. But then, Mr. Trump is never one to honour the rules of presidential precedent, or, for that matter, civilized discourse.
During the speech he also relived the 2016 election campaign to a group of children too young to vote, and who are likely more interested in the Avengers than D.C. vengeance. The fact that Mr. Trump's reference to "his opponent" brought a chorus of boos from the audience should raise chills in anyone listening. Scouts, always be prepared for misogyny! This is not normal. You may have heard that phrase before. America's intellectuals have numbed their fingers typing, "this is not normal." Those keys are worn out on their laptops. Yet humans are infinitely adaptable. What seemed beyond the pale even a few months ago is now worth little more than a sigh.
Still, the backlash against Mr. Trump's weird, vindictive and alarming speech was swift. Former Scouts decried the politicization of an organization that is supposed to be apolitical. The speech "enraged many parents and former Scouts," The New York Times reported, and in response the organization repeated its position that it is "wholly non-partisan."
The message is clear: Don't mess with the Boy Scouts. When Mr. Trump sullied the reputation of one of the United States' most beloved institutions, it was as if he'd drawn horns on Teddy Roosevelt's head on Mount Rushmore, or blown his nose on Superman's cape.
What if this incident is his kryptonite? How odd would it be if speaking to Boy Scouts as if they were attending Dean Martin's roast at a Las Vegas hotel turns out to be the bridge too far of Mr. Trump's presidency? That would be very odd. It was no surprise to any voter that Mr. Trump was neither a literal nor figurative Boy Scout. He embodies none of the characteristics of the young men who are meant to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. I suppose you could make an argument for cleanliness, if not of the ethical variety.
Speaking of which, Walter Shaub, head of the Office of Government Ethics, resigned from his post last month after repeated clashes with the White House. He told CNN, "We are in a state of crisis right now. I'm very concerned about the risk to the integrity of government." Many of those ethical concerns revolved around the President, and his failure to divest from his business interests, to disclose his financial records and his insistence on continually promoting his family's real estate holdings, in contraventions of all norms. (On America's birthday, July 4, The Washington Post totted up the number of visits the President had made to Trump Organization properties: He made 49 such trips in the first 166 days of his presidency.)
So there's the conflict-of-interest business. There's the possible-Russian-collusion business. There's the taking-health-care-away-from-millions-of-people business. There's the voter-suppression-under-the-guise-of-pretending-to-look-at-voter-fraud business. That's not to mention accusing the country's intelligence services of engaging in a malicious witch hunt, and accusing the former president of participating in illegal wiretapping.
In short, making a few inappropriate remarks to a bunch of Boy Scouts is hardly the worst thing Mr. Trump has done. It might not even make the top 100. It's barely shocking – until, that is, you watch the video of the remarks and listen to the audience. They applaud. They laugh. They chant "USA! USA!" They boo the mention of Hillary Clinton, the country's former secretary of state. That audience was entertained.