Many of you may have seen clips of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton cracking jokes to a large audience. Both gave nearly twenty minute speeches at the Al Smith dinner in attempt to poke fun at each other.
The Al Smith dinner is usually an opportunity for presidential candidates. to express mutual respect, even during a hard-fought election. It’s an annual white tie fundraiser for Catholic charities supporting children held in New York City hosted by the arch-bisop of New York. Since 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were speakers, the dinner is a stop for presidential candidates before the quarterly November election.
But this year, the tension was palpable. And a regularly gracious event turned slightly sour—a sign of pervasive hostility in our political sphere. No different than the debates–which the author of Fit for Take Off called “disturbing displays of deceitful and aggressive attacks.”
Clinton delivered a slightly aggressive satirical attack on Trump. But, she said nothing that clearly overstepped the line and she ended with a rather eloquent call to civility.
Trump’s speech started off humorous, and quickly devolved. He poked fun at his wife copying Michelle Obama’s speech–a genuinely funny moment. However, by the end of his twenty minutes, he had called Clinton a Catholic-hating village-destroyer, and blamed the media for his position in the polls.
“Last night, New York City’s rich and powerful found themselves at a Trump rally they had definitely not asked to attend.” – David Litt at the Atlantic
The tension was palpable. Hordes of New York City elite were booing Trump before he could sit by the arch-bishop’s side. Clinton looked highly uncomfortable. The whole scene was cringe-worthy.
Trump’s claims of “rigging” prevailed throughout the dinner, and made it hard to draw the conclusion that he would ride peacefully into the night should he lose the election.
As we approach November 8th, it becomes increasingly likely that claims of “rigging” will derail what the Al Smith dinner is supposed to represent–respect for each other and our differences. After the dust settles on a rather nasty election, what kind of nation do we want to be? The one where presidents write heartfelt letters to their opponents after a graceful loss? Or the one where candidates throw mud even after the results are in?
The Al Smith dinner scared a lot of people. In many ways, we are in uncharted territory. But through it all, respect for our democracy needs to be maintained. It’s all we’ve got.
“It’s too late to save the 2016 Al Smith dinner. But it’s not too late to save everything it was supposed to represent.” – David Litt at the Atlantic