Gary Horton | Just What Does Follow the Leader Mean Anymore?

It’s hard raising kids these days.

There’s so much coming at Junior, from so many media sources. A constant bombardment of competing interests, allures, attitudes, temptations – and examples. Parents try a number of methods to keep kids on the “straight and narrow.” We want them to grow up kind, upright, productive, healthy, and honorable. We look to surround our kids with other like-minded kids. We want them to follow good leaders, good teachers – good role models.

We’d like our kids to “follow the leader” –provided those leaders are leadership-worthy.

I remember so many years ago in Elementary School. In P.E., if you hit certain standards you could earn a “President’s Physical Fitness Award.” I got at least two, from two different presidents. Millions of kids got these things and, while it’s certain our presidents didn’t actually, really sign them, still – achieving a President’s Fitness Award was a cool and worthy thing to a kid of 10 or 12. “Signed by the President.”

Today, the idea of Donald Trump signing off on physical fitness is humorous at best and, more truthfully, degrading to the notion of a fitness award. So much for the viability of that once esteemed program. 

I was a Boy Scout once, and the program helped shape my life when my life needed shaping. Shortly after his election, Donald Trump was invited to speak at the 2017 Scout Jamboree. He turned an otherwise passable Scouting message into a partisan campaign rally, littered with a few comments unsuitable for Scouts in any public setting. Parents protested and wrote in. Said one parent, “As a Scout leader, my stomach is in knots about what Trump did today… It’s downright icky.” 

The Scouts issued a formal apology… an apology for the behavior of the president of the United States. Let that swirl around in your mind for a while. Said Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh, “I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree.” Yes, Scouting CEO apologizing for the president.

Trump’s leadership example to America’s impressionable started out that bad and it hasn’t improved since.

I saw a photo from a protest march the other day. It’s a young boy sitting on his dad’s shoulders, and he’s carrying a placard that reads, “I’m not allowed to act like the president.”

That’s a rather unvarnished and direct critique. We used to hold our presidents up to the highest standards of conduct – at least in front of cameras and in our living rooms. Barack Obama was indisputably exemplary in respect, conduct, loyalty and honor. But that’s not going to happen this go-around. Somehow, we’ve let our own standards down and we’ll accept any behavior by this president. But for God’s sake junior, don’t follow that man’s example!”

Top of the don’t-do list is Trump’s name-calling and disrespect for opponents. And top of that list is Trump’s recurring comments on John McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” And more, “When you lose a $75 million airplane and, more importantly, when American lives are lost and wounded, I don’t believe that you can call it a success.” 

And can you even believe Trump’s White House asked that the USS John S. McCain be hidden from view during his Japan visit. Yes, the man is that thin-skinned. Another trait for Junior not to reflect.

We recall Trump’s rude treatment of Gold Star families. We remember his refusal to honor American fallen troops in France because of rain… and most political followers are disgusted with his ditching of military service with four deferments from “bone spurs.” Out the window goes, “bravery.”

Unlike Boy Scout John McCain, Trump was no Boy Scout and never learned the Scout Oath. By his own admission, Trump’s Vietnam was fighting sexually transmitted diseases. Again, it’s “Junior, cover your ears!”

We hear from the president’s lips about “s–hole countries, “rigged systems,” “total losers,” fake news,” “bleeding from… everywhere” – and on and on. By common count Trump has surpassed 800 unique insults and over 10,000 lies. Yes. This from, “Our Leader.”

Meanwhile, in a different time and space in our nation, we upheld and honored behaviors far, far different than those we daily observe from our own president:

“A Scout is:

• Trustworthy, 

• Loyal, 

• Helpful, 

• Friendly, 

• Courteous, 

• Kind, 

• Obedient, 

• Cheerful, 

• Thrifty, 

• Brave, 

• Clean, 

• and Reverent.

Trump scores a one out of 12. By all accounts Trump is a clean-freak. And cleanliness is next to Godliness, so who knows the final outcome for Trump when he steps into the next world.

But as to here on earth, there’s little in Trump’s example we’d want Junior to absorb. “Honey, the president is on TV, get the kids out of the room!”

SAD, that so many today now ignore character. And we do so at our peril as Trump normalizes behavior antithetical to our once-cherished Scout Oath. When we hold fire close to our chest we’ll get burned. We are what we eat, and we become what we follow. If we indeed follow this leader we’ll raise a generation of retrogrades.

It’s hard raising kids these days.

There’s so much coming at Junior, from so many media sources. And worst, when our own president is shown personifying the worst traits for kids – or any of us — to follow.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006.

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