Why Girl Scouts should have skipped the inaugural parade

Mission Trumps Tradition

I love the Girl Scouts. For nearly 20 years, I worked for the organization, often serving as its national spokesperson, and I was always proud to do so. I was less than proud this week, though, when I heard that local Girl Scouts in Washington, D.C. had decided to march in the inaugural parade. Administrators rationalized this decision by saying that participating in the parade is a tradition and pointing out that the Girl Scout organization is not political. While it is true that the Girl Scouts does not take political stands, that is beside the point. I argue that the decision on whether or not to march should be about mission, not politics.

Marching for Trump Is counter to theGirl Scout mission

Back in the day, in my vintage Girl Scout uniform designed by Mainboucher

The mission of the Girl Scouts is to “build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” I have trouble justifying that mission with the fact that Girl Scouts will be honoring a man who has bragged on national television about grabbing women’s genitals, an act that amounts to sexual assault. This same man talked about entering the changing rooms of an international beauty contest when the female participants were in various stages of undress. When several women, one a respected journalist, accused him of sexual assault he insisted he was innocent because they were not attractive enough to rate his attentions. Why does this man behave this way? Because he can. He has no scruples about capitalizing on the power differential between himself and his victims.

Manage for the Mission

I can’t imagine that saluting this man helps build courage, confidence, or character in a girl. If anything, it sends the message that no matter what a man in power says or does, it’s OK. But it’s not OK, at least not in the last few years. Consider what happened to other men who behaved similarly. Roger Ailes lost the chairmanship of Fox News and his colleague, Bill O’Reilly, paid millions to settle a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a woman in 2004. Just last week, Fox News paid another female employee somewhere in the high six figures to settle a similar suit against O’Reilly. And we all know about “Carlos Danger,” aka former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner. Would the Girl Scouts honor them?

We used to have a saying when I worked at Girl Scout headquarters in the 80s and 90s: Manage for the mission. Coined by then-CEO Frances Hesselbein, it was a reminder to us that every decision should be based upon the values and purpose of the Girl Scout movement. I wish that today’s Girl Scout decision-makers had kept this in mind.

Don’t give up voting on election day.

During a sea battle in the War of 1812, as he lay dying in his quarters, Captain James Lawrence spoke his last words: “Don’t give up the ship.” For good or ill, his crew did exactly that as soon as Lawrence died. A few months later, though, commander Oliver Hazard Perry won a decisive victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, flying a flag that quoted Lawrence’s last words.

Don't give up voting on election day.

The dying words of Capt. James Lawrence and the triumphal slogan of Oliver Hazard Perry

This quote, and its history of failure followed by success, came to my mind when a friend despaired of this election saga in a Facebook post, writing “I have no faith in my fellow Americans anymore.” I do and here’s why:

While some people have come unhinged during this very long election slog, I believe that our better natures will prevail once we are not constantly being wound up by a click-hungry, cynical news media that has abandoned responsibility to act in the public interest. We’ve been through worse, so don’t give up voting on election day.

Experience Matters

At this risk of sounding preachy, I’ll say that this anti-intellectual, “we-hate-elites” strain in populism is what makes it so dangerous. Elite, educated thinkers like Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton founded this republic. Businessmen like Paul Revere and radicals like the Sons of Liberty had vital roles to play, but they did not have the global experience to lead the nation once the revolution was over.

We won the revolution because elites like Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson went over to France and negotiated an alliance. Shortly thereafter, the Constitution was built on compromise, even in the midst of fierce partisanship. We need radicals to shake us out of complacency and call our attention to injustice, but not to hold the reins of power, and certainly not to negotiate on behalf of the nation.

So Do Patience and Inclusion

Guys like Trump and Sanders offer quick and easy answers to problems within existing systems, but have no realistic ideas about how to actually fix things. As Trump says, he just wants to “blow up” Washington. Hillary Clinton is a reformer, not a radical. She’s good at building working partnerships and I believe she will lead us in making things better. True, change will be incremental, but that is better than a deadlocked government fueled by cable without conscience.

Don't give up voting on election day.

Vote: No matter how you say it, be sure to do it.

When vested powers feel threatened, they freak out and push back. That’s why the atmosphere is so venomous now. Going slow and being inclusive is tiresome and not everyone is cut out for it. Hillary Clinton is. And there are Republicans who are also. The reformers in both parties will find each other. So “be just and fear not” (Shakespeare, Henry VIII), and be sure to vote.

On Taxes and Public Service: Being My Own Pundit

When Ben Franklin remarked that “nothing is certain except death and taxes” he didn’t anticipate the spectacle of a major party candidate bragging about being a tax dodger during a presidential debate. Donald Trump asserted that he was “smart” for not paying federal income tax. To my mind, that’s not smart at all, especially for someone who is supposedly a great business person. He should understand that taxes are our communal  investment in America and that public service is an honorable calling.

Hillary and Trump Debate Public Service

Hillary crosses into Trump territory for the initial hand shake — a varsity wrestling move.

Taxes make it possible to be a great nation. To hold elections. Conduct commerce. Make laws. Taxes pay the heating bills in the House of Representatives. They provide schools to educate workers for Donald Trump to hire. Taxes build roads and subways so people can get to Trump’s job sites. Water and sewer systems to keep Trump’s golf courses green.

Public Service versus Career Politicians

Taxes pay the salaries of public servants, whom Trump derides as “career politicians.” George H. W. Bush (R) had an outstanding public service career, serving as a congressman, ambassador, director of the CIA, vice president, and president. So did Gerald Ford (R), who served in the House for 25 years before becoming vice-president, then president due to the scandals of Richard Nixon, whom Ford pardoned at the expense of his own legacy because it was the right thing to do for the country.

Franklin Roosevelt (D) served in state and federal positions for 35 years. He was elected president a record four times, created the economic miracle that dug us out of the Great Depression, and navigated our nation through the heinous Second World War. Jacob Javits (R-NY) served in Congress for 30 years; Everett Dirksen (R-IL) for 34 and Robert Byrd (D-VW) for 51.

Well, you get the idea. And I get the point that Trump is trying to make, albeit artlessly. But there is a difference between public servants and careerists, just as there is a difference between smart businesspeople and a scofflaw huckster. And Donald Trump is the latter.