The pundits are having a field day with Donald Trump's performance at last night's Al Smith Dinner and with how his awkward performance earned him some boos One would think that a wealthy, white, native New Yorker would be able to find at least some common ground with that august audience of New York's "haves and have mores." And he did start out well enough. I am not sure if his joke about his wife really qualifies as the self-deprecating humor such an event expects, but it was funny and seemed to work .
But then there were those darker moments that generated the boos and other signs of awkward discomfort on the dais. And it was encouraging to see that the audience's strongly negative reaction to one of Trump's deservedly worst received lines was when he said "Here she is, in public, pretending not to hate Catholics." That was an allusion presumably to the Wikileaks' hacked emails of some Clinton staffers that revealed - big surprise - that liberal and conservative Catholics have different political perspectives!
Hillary herself, in a bright Ralph Lauren gown, gave a good talk, which included references to Al Smith himself and the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant prejudice his campaign for the presidency elicited in 1928. Reprising JFK's famous Al Smith Dinner comment about Nixon and Rockefeller, she referenced Governor Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio, who obligingly shook hands. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg probably liked being identified as a "real billionaire." Former Mayor Giuliani just snarled, but whether that was because of anything Hillary actually said or whether he was just being himself, who knows? And, as always, Cardinal Dolan ended the evening with an appropriate and edifying reminder of what this is all supposed to be about, and what we as Church are supposed to be about.
As a New Yorker myself, I found myself comparing Trump the native New Yorker and Hillary the adopted New Yorker. If one did not know which was which, one might reverse them. She, the adopted New Yorker, showed herself much more familiar with and comfortable with both New York's social and cultural elite and with New York's deeply rooted and engaged Catholic culture than he the native.
Some wonder whether this quadrennial tradition has outlived its usefulness. If so, that would be yet another sign of the decline of our ability to come together in a bi-partisan way to create and celebrate an authentic experience of civility and community (while raising $6 million for Catholic Charities). So let us hope it continues!