To paraphrase Sally Field, ‘She hates me, he really hates me!”
Any doubts that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton absolutely, positively loathe one another? You might watch a few clips from Thursday night’s Al Smith Dinner at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Big name politicians show up every year to yuk it up and chow down at the event, which raises big-time money for Catholic charities. It is named, of course, in honor of the first Catholic presidential candidate, the so-called ‘Happy Warrior’ who was not so happy after being trounced by Herbert Hoover in 1928.
The dinner traditionally enables candidates and office-holders to show off their humorous side by swapping good-natured and self-deprecating jokes. But Thursday’s event, coming just one night after the heated third presidential debate, did not quite follow tradition.
That is to be expected in 2016.
Donald Trump actually said this about Secretary Clinton, who was sitting just a few feet away: ‘Here she is in public, pretending not to hate Catholics.’ And this: ‘After listening to Hillary rattle on and on, I don’t think so badly of Rosie O’Donnell anymore.’
For good measure, he called Mrs. Clinton ‘corrupt’ a few times. Wow! As Trump likes to say about Generals MacArthur and Patton, Al Smith must be doing some serious spinning.
When it was her turn at the dais, Secretary Clinton gave just as good as she got. Mocking Donald Trump’s emphasis on female looks, she joked that he rates the Statue of Liberty a four, maybe a five ‘if she loses the torch and tablet and changes her hair.’ Mrs. Clinton also joked that Trump might wind up stiffing his campaign manager, and, more seriously, decried his ‘appeals to fear and division.’
The night before, of course, Trump called his opponent ‘such a nasty woman’ just as she was accusing him of being a tax cheat. In other words, the pundits finally got it exactly right. They predicted an extremely nasty presidential campaign filled with insults and invective, and they were on the money.
Does all this have you down? Well, if it’s any small comfort, presidential campaigns have not always been high-minded affairs. In 1800, Thomas Jefferson’s campaign operative called John Adams a ‘hideous hermaphroditical character.’ Jefferson was ridiculed as the ‘son of a half-breed.’ In 1928, Al Smith himself was slandered as a drunkard who would allow the Pope to rule the USA.
But nothing quite sank to the depths of 1828, when Andrew Jackson was vilified as a bigamist and the son of a whore. That was in addition to his being a mentally unhinged traitor. His rival, the incumbent President John Quincy Adams, was derided as a ‘pimp.’ Seriously. After Jackson won the election, JQA skipped the inauguration.
So, yes, our current presidential rivals truly despise one another. But take some solace in the fact that past campaigns, despite similar rancor, did not destroy our great republic.
You might also be reassured by something else that happened at the Al Smith Dinner. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton did something they had studiously avoided the night before – they actually shook hands and sort of smiled at one another.
The handshake was encouraged by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who spent the evening right between the two rivals. If the man is ever considered for sainthood, that handshake could qualify as one of his two required miracles.
That brief moment of civility signals something that should be important to all of us: On Saturday, January 21st, 2017, our remarkable nation will still be standing. Slightly less indivisible, perhaps, but still the most powerful and just nation in the history of this planet.
The long and slow healing process, perhaps more difficult than any since 1828, will begin. And we’ll put forth some unsolicited words of advice for whichever candidate loses this election: Put aside the hatred, let the rancor wash away, concede defeat with grace, and encourage your supporters to accept the result. For the good of this great country.
That, when all is said and done, is the American way.