Bourgeois Entertainment and Affirmation for Capitalists: The Al Smith Charity Dinner

Bourgeois Entertainment and Affirmation for Capitalists: The Al Smith Charity Dinner October 20, 2016
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Still frame from tonight’s live feed of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner via NY Times.

For those who have sought to go beyond the lack of choices offered during most of the 2016 Presidential elections, the Al Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner gave little to no encouragement.

Readers may have greater insight than the author when it comes to the history or tradition of the dinner, hosted by the Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan, and organized by the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation as a fund-raiser for numerous Catholic charities throughout the archdiocese.

The costs for this dinner:

To reserve a table(s) at the following level:
Tables of Ten
Vice Chair $150,000 Principal and nine guests invited to attend the pre-reception
Benefactor $100,000 Principal and one guest invited to attend the pre-reception
Sponsor $50,000 Principal and one guest invited to attend the after-party
Patron $25,000

Individual Ticket
$3,000 (Limited number available)

At $2,500, your least expensive option, you get to wine and dine with some interesting people while being entertained by the Democratic and Republican candidates for President of the United States.

The Al Smith Foundation website – which we cannot access at this moment – shares that

For more than seventy years, luminous guest speakers have stepped from the world stage to honor and entertain Annual Dinner audiences with their light humor and political savvy.

Yes, ‘audiences’ … the fundraiser is a show.

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Reader’s left to right: Former Secretary of State and Democratic Party Nominee for President of the United States, Hillary Clinton; His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York; Republican Party Nominee for President of the United States, Donald Trump. Still frame from the NY Times’ live feed.

Last night the show sold the narrative, again, that we are faced with two pageant contestants: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

We only have two choices – not very different ones – this election, and if this narrative isn’t embraced and offered as dogma by the fundraiser, well, perhaps donors wouldn’t be too happy.

Jokes were made about the capitalist candidates but once laughter fills the room the expectation is that we embrace the wicked truth behind the joke – that there is no authentic choice and that democracy is purchased by the highest bidder – and begin to see it as justifiable and good; after all, you can’t upset the capitalists too much before seeing donations to your organizations and cathedral restorations cut.

In 2013, Pope Francis said, “How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!” A church that is poor does not have to compromise its prophetic witness to keep donors happy, nor worry about losing material goods as some possible punishment for denouncing the injustice built and reinforced by our economic and political power structures.

It is a shame that we did not get to hear from third party candidates or get introduced to the poor of New York- the latter are those who receive the Gospel from Christ – on the livestream of the Al Smith Foundation Dinner.

Concerning third party candidates, Alfred E. Smith IV joked about Libertarian Gary Johnson being invited, but not knowing where New York was.

More importantly, of course, were we to listen to the word of the poor and receive the gospel, perhaps the Al Smith dinner would cease to exist. Perhaps we would be so passionate about justice that we would care for the planet, pay just wages, and charge fair prices thus decreasing poverty but, alas, perhaps decreasing excess material wealth.

Where would the Al Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner be in a world with less poverty and less excess wealth? With the wealthy supporting the narrative of you only get one choice and you can call it Trump or you can call it Clinton, of course the dinner wouldn’t extend an invitation to other candidates against the advantages of the “philanthropists”.

Philanthropists – lovers of mankind after excess is secured, after the blood of the poor is spilt for the acquisition of such excess wealth, after the poor are left waiting, dying, so the rich can become rich enough to bestow their generosity on the lowly, instead of working for justice in all their relations.

Whether it be either some of the Al Smith Memorial Foundation’s Board of Directors, or various trustees of Catholic Charities of New York, or either of their “major” donors, we’ll notice an eery trend.

In the case of dinner and entertainment for the bourgeoisie – in addition to receiving the benefit of having the pro-capitalist narrative reinforced – we are left to believe you can get rich at the expense of others, and decide to help after the fact.

You see the bourgeoisie coming to the aid of decent charity groups, while their intermediaries offer the kindest words on behalf of the generous capitalists, capitalists who purchase the propagation of their self-serving narrative and, when criticized, its defense – all in the name of philanthropy.

In closing, His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, said:

Two other persons are here with us this evening everybody. The first are those thousands of women and children in this city we cherish as our earthly home that will benefit from the proceeds of this event. I’m taking about the African American mom in the Bronx, eager for a scholarship to get her children into one of our renowned inner-city Catholic schools, talking of the troubled young mother needing support and encouragement to bring the tiny baby in the sanctuary of her womb to birth, I’m talking of the Mexican immigrant mom approaching our Catholic charities for help in uniting her family and obtaining citizenship, english language instruction, and job training. None of these brave women could afford a ticket to the Al Smith dinner; this is more than they’d make in a month, but they’re sure grateful you could because as of tomorrow, thanks to all of you, six million dollars will begin to flow out to lift them up. And the other person who is really here with us this evening: The Lord. He’s told us … he’s in the midst of any the event characterized by love, care, concern and service … [Jesus’] bride the Church is honored to host an event affirming the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of all human life.

“None of these brave women could afford a ticket to the Al Smith dinner; this [$2,500 per plate minimum] is more than they’d make in a month, but they’re sure grateful you could…”.

I was hoping the Cardinal would point to certain areas in the arena, recognizing these women as he referenced them – but I must have missed it.

“None of these brave women could afford a ticket to the Al Smith dinner, this [$2,500 per plate minimum] is more than they’d make in a month, but they’re sure grateful you could…”.

I know no better way than to respond to this last praise of the capitalist donor than by including a small story noted by the Servant of God and co-founder of the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day, which I am reminded of whenever I hear about “charity” from those who defraud the poor:

Over and over again in the history of the church the saints have emphasized poverty. Every community which has been started, has begun in poverty and in incredible hardships by the rank and file priest and brother and monk and nun who gave their youth and energy to good works. And the result has always been that the orders thrived, the foundations grew, property was extended till holdings and buildings were accumulated and although there was still individual poverty, there was corporate wealth. It is hard to keep poor.

One way to keep poor of course is not to accept money which is the result of defrauding the poor. Here is a story of St. Ignatius of Sardinia, a Capuchin just canonized last October. Ignatius used to go out from his monastery with a sack to beg from the people of the town but he would never go to a merchant who had built up his fortune by defrauding the poor. Franchino, the rich man, fumed every time he passed his door, at being so neglected, though this perhaps seems even more unbelievable than the climax of the story. His concern, however, was not the loss of the opportunity to give an alms, but the fear of public opinion. He complained at the friary, whereupon the Father Guardian ordered St. Ignatius to beg from the merchant the next time he went out.

“Very well,” said Ignatius obediently. “If you wish it, Father, I will go, but I would not have the Capuchins dine on the blood of the poor.”

The merchant received Ignatius with great flattery and gave him generous alms, asking him to come again in the future. But hardly had Ignatius left the house with his sack on his shoulder than drops of blood began oozing from the sack. They trickled down on Franchino’s doorstep and down through the street to the monastery. Everywhere Ignatius went a trickle of blood followed him. When he arrived at the friary he laid the sack at the Father Guardian’s feet.

“What is this?” gasped the Guardian. “This,” St. Ignatius said, “is the blood of the poor.” [Source]

Further reading:

Laudato si’ Invites You: An Economy Beyond Capitalism

Capitalists Should Be Nervous: A Response to Fr. Robert Barron on Laudato si’

Until next time,

Keith Michael Estrada

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