Mark Mathias: Mixed Reactions At Trump’s Boy Scout Speech

Mark Mathias is many things. He’s the founder and president of Remarkable STEAM, a statewide organization promoting innovation and creativity in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. He founded Westport’s Maker Faire, has served on the Board of Education for 14 years, and volunteers with the Boy Scouts.

In that last capacity, he’s attending this week’s National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. He’s joined by 35,000 Scouts from around the world (120 from Connecticut, including Westporters), and 5,000 adult support staff. Mathias’ role is radio communications.

Mark Mathias and his son Nick, at the Boy Scout Jamboree.

Yesterday was a special one at the sprawling camp. Here’s his report:

This year, we were honored to have President Trump address the Jamboree.

Scheduled to speak at 6 p.m., preparations for his visit started well over a week ago. The venue opened at 2:30, and numerous restrictions were in place. It took nearly 2 hours from the time I got in line and snaked down the pathways until I reached one of 2 entrances.

Restrictions in place for President Trump’s visit to the Boy Scout Jamboree.

All day long, and particularly in line, lots of Scouts and adults wore red “Make America Great Again” hats.

Once inside the venue, box lunches were given to each person. Free bottles of water were handed out to every attendee, since it was very hot and muggy.  Luckily there was some light cloud cover and a brief sprinkle of rain to keep people cool while we waited on the grass.

The scouting organization was good at keeping the crowd entertained, as the Scouts stayed in their troop areas.  Many patches were traded, and ice cream vendors did a land office business.

By 6 p.m. the stage was set. A man placed the presidential seal on the podium.

Around 6:20 we saw the presidential motorcade arrive, winding down the hill to the rear of the stage.  The crowd frequently chanted: “We want Trump!” and “U! S! A!”

Mark Mathias’ view of the presidential stage.

When Mr. Trump came on stage, he received a very warm welcome from the assembled Scouts.  Thunderous applause and chanting of his name was a marvel to hear.

As he started his speech, Mr. Trump indicated he would set aside political differences for the evening, and instead talk about how to be successful.  He mentioned that 10 of the members of his cabinet were Scouts, and brought on stage Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

Other than the time I went to Washington to see a presidential inauguration with my family, I have not attended a live event where the President of the United States has spoken. I believe that the opportunity to see and hear the president is something everyone in our country should have.  I also believe in respecting the office of the president.

President Trump addresses the Boy Scouts.

Speaking to other scoutmasters in the audience as we waited for the president, I heard that some troops had talked seriously about not attending. Luckily, the scoutmasters I spoke to did not let this opportunity pass by. As I left the venue after the speech however, I saw a handful of troops that elected to not attend.

With a great start to President Trump’s speech, I had high hopes he would use it as an opportunity to inspire this largest collection of Scouts in the United States to do great things, and have scouting be a way to give them the skills they need.

Unfortunately, President Trump moved to subjects of repealing Obamacare, “fake news,” and how well the economy and stock market are doing since his election.

The crowd welcomed most of President Trump’s comments with great cheers, although there was the occasional boo — in particular when President Trump mentioned that President Obama did not address a Jamboree. (Click below for the entire speech.)

I stood in the audience, trying to absorb what was going on around me. Was the crowd responding to the fact that they had the President of the United States speaking to them? Were they truly supportive of the policies being presented to them? A combination of these and other reasons? Am I out of touch with America?

On the walk home and in talking with the people with whom I’m working, the conversations were muted. A few people said they thought Trump did a great job. Others were more critical of his speech. But adults on both sides of the subject were remarkably unenthusiastic. It was almost as though the speech didn’t happen. It surprised me that there was not a great desire to talk about what we had just witnessed.

Mark Mathias, at the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.

The experience for me was somewhat surreal. Being in the audience as the president addressed us is a great honor. Feeling the energy of the crowd — but not the motivation — made me feel out of place. Then, after having experienced what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing the president in person not be ebullient about it, was downright odd.

I hope to have more opportunities to participate in events of this nature, and hear leaders in their own words. I hope to be able to share these experiences with my family and friends. Most of all, I hope that we all grow as a result of these experiences.

46 responses to “Mark Mathias: Mixed Reactions At Trump’s Boy Scout Speech

  1. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Its pretty difficult to be the President and speak to the BSA without receiving a positive response or he would have done it.

  2. Mary Cookman Schmerker '58

    As a former Girl Scout who achieved what was the girls equivalent of Eagle Scout I was very disappointed in the bits and pieces I heard broadcast last night on the news. This was an opportunity to motivate and inspire our youth to press forward with the ideals of service to our country and others , the Scouting ideals. What I heard on the news fell far short ……..

  3. Thank you for sharing this message about mixed feelings about hearing this speech and about the response of general surprise and confusion. Fascinating.

  4. Surprises me that after all of Trump’s tweets and inappropriate language you would expect him to be presidential at any gathering. He was true to form. What a shame for our young people.

    • Exactly what I thought. I had the opportunity to hear and see in person two of our past Presidents. It should be something to look back on with fondness and appreciation.

    • Cristina Soto

      Thank you Holly Wechsler Schwartztol for this comment. It worries me that the Boy Scouts were not able to predict this. At this point, it is very difficult for me to understand how anyone could trust this president would make an inspirational speech based on his record. It would be insightful to hear how the BSA leaders made this decision. Were they just taken with the idea of any person who is in that office as worthy? What are we choosing to follow? What would I have done if I had been standing behind him on that stage? What do we choose and why? Perhaps the actions of Trump are a lesson and a litmus test. We all need to think about our choices if we hope to promote honor, integrity and trust.

  5. As a Communications proffessional (and a Scout mom!), I continue to wonder why he can’t be managed more effectively by this team. If he had just stuck to the inspirational portions, praising Scouting and noting how many accomplished Scouts in his cabinet, etc., I think it would’ve been a total win. Which this president needs. I agree that no matter who the President is, being at an event where the Leader of the Free World speaks directly to you and your group is a special moment – for adults and children alike. I can’t imagine the task of hearding all those people onto that field !

  6. Rozanne Gates

    There is a traitor in the White House and you want to excuse him, Mark? As the opposition party, it is incumbent on all Democrats to resist at every opportunity the white supremacist policies of this government. He wants to issue a death sentence to millions of Americans by dismantling health care. He wants to suppress voting to maintain a “white quo” – he swore on Jan. 20 to uphold the Constitution and he has done nothing but try to undo it. Shame on him and I hope you rethink your conciliatory attitude which certainly didn’t bode well for Chamberlain in 1939.

  7. Mark, I’m curious: did Trump by any chance say if he belonged to the Cub Scouts when he was a young kid? I grew up not far from Trump during the first part of my childhood, admittedly in a far less wealthy area–a very large apartment complex–and Cub Scouts were an enormously popular activity in my neighborhood back in the 1950s. I thought there might have been some personal connection that inspired him to do the speech and, if so, wondered he shared any personal stories from that experience.

    • Nancy Hunter

      No personal connection was mentioned, so it is highly doubtful either he or his children were members. His only “inspirational” anecdote came from a cocktail party he once attended.

  8. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    If he can’t turn a gathering like the Boy Scouts Jamboree into an inspiration then I have lost all hope. This should have been a presidential layup shot.

  9. As an ex Scout (Troop 500, Brooklyn, NY ) I’m ashamed that the Boy Scouts invited a man to speak to them who regards anthropogenic climate change as a hoax. Scouts are taught to be committed protectors of the environment. Is this our President ? And why is he allowed to burnish his image by using the Boy Scouts ? I wish I were still a member so that I could resign.
    ADW Staples 1956

  10. Mark is simply reporting what he witnessed and being respectful not to make a political statement. Thank you Mark. But I will say what should be obvious to everyone who is not blinded by tribalism and some crazy need to be right. Don the Con is a national disgrace plain and simple. This is just another of a myriad of examples.

  11. Leslie Petersen

    As a Westport mother of two Eagle Scouts, I was appalled and disgusted at what Pres. Trump had to say to the scouts at The National Jamboree.Oblivious as to what a real leader should do at a meeting of youth who subscribe to truth and honesty above all else, he was a national embarrassment. He doesn’t care about scouting or what it represents in the least. His own warped agenda was on garish display, again.

    • Bobbi Essagof

      As a past Brownie leader and as a human being thank you for your comment. This was the epitome of disgusting. Just when you think he can’t sink any lower he surprises us yet again! I feel very sorry for all the children who are experiencing this amoral man as president of our country, Presidents should be respected whether you agree with them or not. Luckily I no longer need to tell my kids, as they as adults, that they must respect the president. Best of luck to all those with young children!

  12. Bill Boyd (Staples 1966)

    Well said…he describes the emtiness of Trump without having to label it.

  13. Russell Gontar

    The Scout Law is: “ A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.” Donald Trump and the rest of his criminal cabal are none of these things.

  14. David Abrams

    I’ve attended speeches to Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Hilary Clinton, and Ehud Barak (all when out of office). Only Bill Clinton was inspiring. President Bush reminded us that he was The Decider and that he loved his father (with pre-screened questions in the Q&A). Hillary Clinton had not yet announced her run for President and said very little at all. Tony Blair was 10 years out of office and was in many ways no longer topical. Ehud Barak was unapologetic. The point is, these speeches are hit and miss and depend a great deal upon the personality of the speaker. IO suspect that President Trumps comments reflected his personality, not his audience. I’m also mindful of President Obama’s desire to speak to school children on the first day of school. Not all inspiration is welcomed by the parents.

  15. Nancy Hunter

    It was a despicable replay of his despicable inaugural speech, right down to his psychotic preoccupation with crowd size.

  16. Robert Mitchell

    Was this a prepared speech, and if so. who wrote it? He must have speech writers who can distinguish between political gatherings and inspirational gatherings, and write accordingly. Was this a campaign speech? Boy Scouts are too young to vote.
    Two of the greatest institutions in the country: POTUS and BSA. Should have been a slam dunk.

    • My guess it was a typical Trump speech: written by speechwriters, but delivered by someone who ad libs whenever he feels like it.

      • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

        Dan, regardless of who wrote it, he gave it and therefore he owns it.
        Best regards,
        Eric B.

  17. Lisa Marie Alter

    I’m appalled – but not surprised. Sorry Mark Mathias, I’m gonna break with your attempt at decorum and agree with Roxanne Gates, and the others who disagree with your lackluster report.

    It is incumbent upon each and every American who disagrees with Trump to speak up and not “normalize” or gloss over what he says, does or represents. While I respect the office of POTUS, I will never EVER respect Trump. He has yet to say or do ONE thing I can get behind or support – over the course of his entire sordid, morally-corrupt life.

    His RANT was nothing less than thoroughly inappropriate and unbecoming of what should have been an inspiring address to the BSA – our youth and America’s future – by the President of the United States. I applaud those troops who chose to boycott that hot wet messy display of mental illness and authoritarianism, and disrespect for what the Boys Scouts of America is supposed to stand for.

    It’s time to stand up and say it: This “Emperor” not only has “no clothes,” he is destroying our once-wonderful country. Why the GOP is not willing to put an end to his insanity and ill-begotten “Administration” speaks to legions of questions about their legitimacy and integrity…

  18. very well said Lisa!

    • Bobbi Essago

      One of my favorite stories and I’m glad to see I’m not the only one thinking this!

      Dan we need a like button!

  19. Kevin O'Brien

    This is not the place for angry politics. That’s not why I subscribed to this. This is about Westport. I think comments like these are better left to personal emails and private messages. There are others who are offended by this sort of display and are intimidated by a mob mentality. I think the best way to judge the topic is just to watch the speech, elsewhere, and judge for yourself and not through the lens of someone else’s filter or comments of people who obviously hate one side or the other, though the boat seems to decidedly list to one side here. There is no courage in that, just group think and comfort in community hate, and yes “hate” is the right word for it when it spills over so vehemently in a blog supposedly about the town of Westport. Folks who would never throw an emotional, angry tantrum in public, around others to see, are doing so right here for others to see. Keep it at home or in another forum. We don’t need to see people’s ugliness here. I’m a life-long Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I have to be an insulting boor about it.

    • Nancy Hunter

      … and, the Boy Scout Jamboree, which many Westporters have participated in, is not the place for a campaign speech.

  20. Thanks Mark & Dan … Simply sounds like the New Nuremberg Rally … Glad you got out alive!

  21. Bob Stalling

    Yes, even the Boy Scouts are lucky to be alive!
    Watch some of the horror here…

  22. Bonnie Bradley

    Agree wholeheartedly with most of comments above, especially with Lisa Marie. The freedom of speech we enjoy and cherish is one of our most valuable attributes. I don’t criticize Kevin for his opinion but feel that his comment is beside the point. This blog is a forum for opinion; as long as it is reasonable and no one is shouting “fire” in the theater everyone should have a right to be heard. Dan is a great gatekeeper – if it’s truly prejudiced, nasty or hurtful he will take the comment away.

  23. That these fine young men were incited to boo a past president to show loyalty is a truly horrible thought.

  24. Joyce Barnhart

    A boycott is not always the best way to demonstrate disagreement. Attending an event and turning one’s back says more than absence can.

  25. Vanessa Bradford

    President Kennedy, Ford, Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama were all Boy Scouts. Presidents are always invited to the Boy Scout Jamboree. Trump chose to speak and attend. Must he really be so childish to put down President Obama for not attending prior jamborees? At least President Obama was a Boy Scout.

  26. Deborah Schlacks

    Eisenhower also never attended in person but, like Obama, sent a taped message. Be that as it may, Trump’s comments were disgraceful. No two ways about it.

  27. muttering to myself as i read this: “TRUCK FUMP, TRUCK FUMP”

  28. “The usual suspects”? Hilarious. Incoherent screed. Well done Dan.

  29. Susan Iseman

    Follow the money.

  30. Adam Vengrow

    didnt take long to turn a purely informative great 06880 blog into a political debate! let this be known: Mark Mathias is a great man and thanks for his lifelong work to better the community and thanks to Dan Woog for always reporting interesting events!

  31. Hanne Jeppesen

    This was a very inappropriate speech in front of boy scouts and teen agers. The President (I almost cringe writing that, although he is my President, suppose I could hide behind my Danish roots, still a citizen although I have been in the US for 50 years, came here as an au pair in Westport). Mr. Trump talked about himself, bashed Obama, I did not hear one sentenced that would sound inspirational to boy scouts. I was not for Trump, not much of a Hillary fan either (although I liked her as First Lady and Senator), but when he got elected, I hoped for the best, and thought he might be okay. I use to watch the Apprentice and thought he seemed like a decent enough person. He has disappointed me more than I though possible. He seem to be in the dark about how government works, he does not seem to learning on the job, I don’t think he is a stupid man, but he seem intend on treating the Presidency as a CEO of his company, There is a big difference, as a CEO he has the final say, as President he has a lot of power, not total power there are checks and balances, which is a concept is seems he cannot, or won’t grasp. Sad, I’m afraid for my adoptive country,

  32. Mark Yurkiw

    I nominate Mark Mathias as Ambassador TO the United States!