Humor Leads To Tensions At Al Smith Dinner
The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, also coined the “Al Smith dinner” took place at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York on Thursday October 20th; continuing the tradition for the event to take place the third Thursday of every October. The event not only recognizes the life and legacy of Alfred Smith, but also serves as a fundraiser for Catholic charities that try to help the needy. At the event were the two front-runners for president, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump. Presidents have been visiting this event for many elections, beginning in 1960 in the race between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. However, the dinner is typically a friendly gathering, and the candidates usually partake in self-deprecating, humorous speeches to the guests.
This Al Smith dinner was different. Trump spoke first, garnering both applause and boos. Some of his jokes were mild, such as a joke he made about his wife, Melania’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland earlier this year. It referenced how the presidential candidate’s wife’s speech featured plagiarized lines from a speech given by the First Lady, Michelle Obama and poked fun about the Wikileaks’ revelations that much of the media has been biased against Trump. “You know Michelle Obama gives a speech and everyone loves it, it’s fantastic. They think she’s absolutely great. My wife Melania gives the exact same speech and people get on her case, and I don’t get it! I don’t know why…”
However, a few of his jokes were a little more vitriolic, such as a joke in which Trump claimed that former Secretary Clinton hates Catholics. “We’ve learned so much from WikiLeaks. For example, Hillary believes that it’s vital to deceive the people by having one public policy and a totally different policy in private—That’s okay, I don’t know who they’re angry at, Hillary, you or I. For example, here she is tonight, in public, pretending not to hate Catholics.” This joke is a reference to emails leaked by Wikileaks that contained statements from people working in the Clinton campaign saying that the religion was “backwards” and the need for a Catholic spring. The dual position portion of the joke is a jab at Clinton, referencing a speech she gave to Wall Street entities, in which she claimed to hold two positions at once.
Another particularly harsh joke that Trump exchanged during his speech was one in which he joked about the earthquake in Haiti, and the alleged role the Clinton Foundation played in that natural disaster recovery. “Everyone knows of course Hillary’s belief that it takes a village, as in Haiti where she’s taken a number of them.” Allegedly, Clinton used the Clinton Foundation as a slush fund, and how she allegedly used money from the donations to the needy Haitians, as a way to benefit special interests. Trump used the event to try to hit Clinton as hard as possible, and that is more visible than ever in that joke.
Clinton, however, came armed with her own brigade of humorous jabs, which also received mixed audience results. Like Trump’s speech, Clinton’s began rather tame, following a traditional format of the event. She stated of the dinner, “This is such a special event that I took a break from my rigorous nap schedule to be here.” She also commented that she would put many of the guests at the event in a “Basket of Adorables” which was a rephrasing of a claim that she had previously given, saying that many of Trump supporters were deplorable. The former Secretary of State also joked about the large fees she had typically given for speeches, when she claimed that her speech was a great treat for the guests “Usually I charge a lot for speeches like this.”
She continued, mocking Trump’s previous statements, and alleged incidents with women; Clinton claimed “People look at the Statue of Liberty, and they see a proud symbol of our history as a nation of immigrants, a beacon of hope for people around the world. Donald looks at the Statue of Liberty and sees a 4. Maybe a 5 if she loses the torch and tablet and changes her hair.” This was especially relevant at the time, as it followed the leak of Trump’s private conversation with Billy Bush – who recently resigned from the show, Access Hollywood. Many in the Trump campaign summed up the conversation to, “locker room talk” but it was still getting a lot of attention in the news, and as it stands Trump has been trying to garner more women voters. In addition, Trump had lost a few endorsements such as one from former Republican nominee and Senator of Arizona, John McCain, for the comments.
Clinton also slammed Trump on his comments about her lack of stamina when she stated, “Donald really is as healthy as a horse – you know, the one that Vladimir Putin rides around on.” This joke also referenced how many people accuse Trump of having an admiration of Putin, when he said that he was a better leader than President Obama at a military town hall, and how the Trump campaign in general through their less interventionist, “America First” foreign policy would allow Putin to run rampant. Clinton had also claimed in the past that the Russian government was using Wikileaks to release emails that would ultimately hurt her bid for presidency, trying to influence the election in Trump’s favor. However, the F.B.I did recently investigate into Trump and his possible connections to Putin and the Russian government, and they did not find any; according to a New York Times article written by Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers.
In general, the speeches captured the nature of the election: loud, and polarizing, with some funny moments as well. However, both the event and the speeches were for a very important philanthropic activity, so I suppose the event shows that whether you support Trump or Clinton, we can all come together at the end of the day to support a worthy cause.