A tale of two dinners

Critique of political etiquette in 2016

I can imagine my grandchildren gathering around me to ask what it was like to live in the year of Trump and Clinton, to which I’d reply, while staring blankly off into the distance, “We don’t speak of such things.”

The level of toxic language, constant accusations and personal attacks in this presidential election has gotten out of control. Case study: The 2016 Alfred E. Smith Foundation Dinner.

The Al Smith Dinner is an annual fundraiser held on the third Thursday in October in New York City. All proceeds of the dinner go to Catholic charities benefiting children, and it has become a tradition for both Republican and Democratic presidential nominees to speak at the event while wearing fancy white ties during election years. The dinner also serves as a chance for both campaigns to relax for a night and remember that they’re all still human.

The atmosphere of previous Al Smith Dinners have been cordial, if not pleasant.

The 2012 race between incumbent President Barack Obama and then-Governor Mitt Romney was a close one. Tensions were high, opinions clashed and Obama and Romney fought tirelessly for their campaign and political ideologies to succeed, but at the Al Smith dinner all that was set aside.

Like nominees in the past, Romney and Obama kept it light, poking fun at each other, at themselves and at members of the audience. Romney joked that Obama was using any tiny uptick in the economy as a new campaigning point, while also lambasting himself for his controversial “binders full of women” statement. Obama in turn roasted his competitor on his lack of endorsements from Hollywood and joked about his own poor performance during the first presidential debate.

The audience laughed, the nominees smiled and the world started to realize that maybe the other side wasn’t so bad after all. Near the end of his speech, Mitt Romney took a moment to convey the respect he had for President Obama and all he had done for our country.

In 2008, then-Senator Obama said that few people had ever served our nation with as much honor and distinction as his opponent, Senator John McCain.

During the 2000 Al Smith Dinner, then-Governor George W. Bush saluted then-Vice President Al Gore weeks before the closest election in American history and said:

“Mr. Vice President, I can’t wish you success, but I do wish you well.”

…You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

The 2016 Al Smith Dinner lacked the gentle jabs and mutual respect of previous election years. Donald Trump did begin his speech with some jokes, poking fun at his wife’s “plagiarized” speech, but as the event went on his attacks on Clinton became harsh and personal. Calling her corrupt and claiming that she secretly hates Catholics, Trump was booed by the audience, at a fundraiser for needy children.

Clinton, for her part, slammed Trump for his controversial comments about women and landed increasingly sharp insults on Trump supporters like Rudy Giuliani, sometimes to crickets from the audience.

The mood during the 2016 Al Smith dinner could only be described as awkward and tense. Breaking tradition, neither candidate managed to say anything to praise their competitor.

I know how tiring this presidential season has become and that the stakes are higher than ever before. Yet it breaks my heart to see what was once an oasis of common ground and mutual respect has become yet another broken battleground of the ongoing Trump-Clinton war.

Too often we forget that the issues we disagree on do not define us, no matter how passionate our opinions may be. Democrats and Republicans are still Americans and human beings underneath all of that red and blue paint. Too often we forget that we all have more in common than we do not.

Hillary Clinton is not perfect, but she has many admirable qualities: perseverance, extensive knowledge of foreign policy, and resilience in the face of enormous pressure. She has become the first woman in our history to earn the nomination of a major political party and through that she has proven to girls everywhere that they can do anything they set their minds to.

Last year I wrote an opinion piece criticizing Donald Trump. Despite this, I still believe I can find some kind words to say about him. Trump has become a voice to the disenfranchised; those who are fed up with our current system of government and feel as though they are being forgotten. The anger within Trump’s electorate is real and deserves to be addressed. Trump’s brash attitude and blunt approach to our political system shook Washington to its’ core. Perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing.

No matter who wins the election on Nov. 8, I will give them the respect that befits the office. If the other side wins, it won’t be the end of the world. There are serious issues to be addressed in the next four years. As Romney said during his speech at the Al Smith Dinner,

“There’s more to life than politics.”

Brandon Grossi, Sports Editor

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