I feel sorry for President Donald Trump.
In his address to the Boy Scouts at the 2017 National Scout Jamboree this week, the selfless mogul extolled the virtues of the Scout Oath and Law. Repeating the Scout Law, Trump said, “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal — we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.”
In the same vulgar speech, he asked his adoring crowd of young boys to pressure Sen. Shelley Capito into supporting the GOP’s monster of a healthcare bill. He took jabs at the “fake media.” He boasted about his “incredible night” of an election where the “map was so red, it was unbelievable.” As Republicans distance themselves from him, he wants friends to stand by his side. What he doesn’t know is that loyalty is earned, never demanded.
Like diamonds, loyalty is created through great pressure that brings strangers together. I learned this when I went on a backpacking trip with 10 other guys in the towering mountain ranges of Philmont Scout Ranch. While building trails and hiking over 80 miles of wilderness over two weeks, we learned how to work as a team in sweltering heat. I gave all I could and took from others with gratitude. This, I felt, was hiking.
Then I fell. Dropping my hiking poles, I fell as my jelly legs gave way to the hard ground of the trail. “You can keep doing this,” my companions told me. “Keep on going!” They pulled me up, taking some heavy provisions off my back, and then we made it to camp. I reciprocated by cooking chili mac for them that night over a small lightweight stove.
As we journeyed up and down mountains with full packs, our group developed a deep sense of camaraderie with each other. We cooked meals over tiny portable stoves for everyone. We carried each other’s burdens when our backpacks became too heavy. We hiked together at all times, pointing out rocks and other pitfalls that could befall wanderers in the wilderness. We depended on each other because none of us could finish our hike alone.
Trump clearly didn’t learn these lessons. His classmates described him as a bully at the private military school he attended, where he tried to push a fellow cadet out of a second-room floor with a broomstick.
As he grew older on the streets of New York, he didn’t become wiser. Instead, he told African-Americans there were “no vacancies.” He left two wives. He tried to bully a widow into selling her house so he could turn the land into a limousine parking lot. All his relationships are transactional, rather than fraternal.
Loyalty is also in short supply in his White House. Michael Flynn was fired over ties to Russia. Sean Spicer left his post as press secretary. Lesser-known officials such as the Chinese ambassador, who normally stay on in their posts, have left as Trump and his surrogates tarnish relationships with our allies and embolden our enemies. Trump’s ego is getting in the way of building relationships with public servants.
He’s paying the price now. As Trump becomes mired deeper and deeper in the Russian quagmire, Republicans increasingly distance themselves from him because, when dealing with the reality television star turned commander-in-chief, they know that loyalty is a one-way street. His tweets betray desperation when he trashed Jeff Sessions for “taking a VERY weak position” on Hillary Clinton’s emails and proclaims that “Russia talk is FAKE NEWS.” While his allies desert him, he tries to substitute the roar of the crowds for hard-earned, close friendships.
He spoke to thousands of adoring Scouts who chanted “USA! USA!” but he doesn't have a single friend in Washington. He should get a dog.
Wong is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @calebawong.