President Donald Trump’s refugee executive orders put many people on the spot this weekend. Thousands of New Yorkers replied by gathering at Kennedy International Airport’s Terminal 4 and taking to the streets of lower Manhattan.
On Sunday, New York’s political, business and religious elite also huddled, and were also put on the spot at a 100th anniversary celebration of Catholic Charities of New York. How did they stand?
The lunch at Rockefeller Center was a perfectly scripted moment for some of the state’s “top influencers” to decry the refugee orders, couched in praise of a worthy philanthropic aid organization devoted to helping Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Sen. Chuck Schumer swung at the fastball, calling the orders “a terrible thing” before haltingly reading part of Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” — the poem printed on the Statue of Liberty.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lauded New York’s inclusiveness and said New Yorkers had “new issues” to face today, highlighting in particular a “rash of hate crimes.” Mayor Bill de Blasio said “our brothers and sisters who are immigrants are gripped by fear right now” and noted that “clergy leaders are going to have a moment now where their voices matter more than ever.”
Those politicians left the lunch. There were other pro-immigrant events taking place around the city, to which they leant their voice. That left Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, to give the keynote address.
With Trump layering his orders with an undertone of religious divisiveness — falsely implying as he did throughout the campaign that President Barack Obama was allowing Muslim as opposed to Christian refugees — some religious leaders have felt compelled to come out strong and against. That included University of Notre Dame president Father John I. Jenkins, who slammed the orders and asked the president to rescind them.
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, also spoke out forcefully about what he called a “dark moment” in American history: “The world is watching as we abandon our commitments to American values.”
Dolan, on the other hand, was far more circumspect on Sunday.
He rightfully praised the good work of Catholic Charities, who tend to some of the city’s hardest cases — often dealing with immigrants. In a short speech he lightly reminded attendees of the organization’s “irrevocable promise to our immigrants,” and highlighted an expansion of some programs to help immigrants.
Speaking to reporters afterward, the archbishop said that “at first blush” the orders caused “some apprehension.”
With detainees held into Sunday at some airports that seems to be an understatement, but fits with the walk-the-tightrope angle Dolan has traveled as a ranking member of the church. In 2015 he wrote a scathing op-ed about the rise of nativism in the Daily News. Yet in perhaps a spirit of evenhandedness he participated in Trump’s inauguration ceremony — and also, last week, in the anti-abortion March for Life in Washington, D.C.
During the presidential campaign, Dolan brought Hillary Clinton and Trump together for the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, another high-profile NYC charity event. Catholic Charities can’t do its good work without funding, which explains why Trump-leaning businessmen like grocery magnate John Catsimatidis, J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon and Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman were either present or lauded.
That spirit of bipartisanship and world-straddling is jarringly dissonant with the public mood, given the extremity of Trump’s orders, their seeming political purpose and slapdash feel. Many who feel compelled to take the streets struggle to find common ground with Trump’s agenda so far — some have been taking to social media and staging house-protests to decry Schumer’s record of voting for the president’s cabinet nominees, for example.
In the “top influencer” rooms where things happen, does the protest pressure carry over? Perhaps above-the-fray figures like religious leaders can pressure Trump on explicitly immoral actions like his refugee ban. Has he spoken to Trump on the issue yet?
“Nope,” he told me while exiting 30 Rock. “We might write or something. Stay tuned.”