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Electing Trump, Bernie or a cat

| Friday, March 18, 2016

This is about a Notre Dame student movement — angered and disgusted like our prevailing political anti-establishment feelings currently fueling the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders candidacies — that elected a kitten as Student Body Vice President. During my junior year spring semester, I was among eight other candidates running for the student body presidency against a spontaneous joke ticket that mocked student government. While we establishment candidates ran for president, the joke ticket ran for Campus King by featuring a “Prime Mover” with “Uncandidate the Cat” as his vice president. Unfortunately for me, after Uncandidate produced a fake ID proving that it was a student, the kitten and its self-declared royal running mate who donned a Burger King crown defeated all nine of us in two election rounds.

To illustrate my uniquely liberal Vietnam War raging time on campus, students enjoyed beer kegs throughout campus, including at dormitory parties. Cigarette machines strategically sat on alternating residence halls floors, amid an openly smoking campus. Alcoholic beverages could be staged anywhere on the campus grounds. In fact, my hall, Lyons, won third place for the best homecoming float, and student government presented with a keg of beer.

Our sitting student body president (SBP) — clean-cut, serious-minded and the first student of Hispanic heritage elected to lead student government — betrayed the student body after it had demonstrated with a high Bernie Sanders-like revolutionary turnout of support after the University announced kegs would be banned from campus. Several hundred students packed our Campus Life Council meeting, so many the overflow moved the audience to the Engineering Auditorium but still fell short of seating the colossal crowd. Our SBP assured us “the administration has seen your resolve and support, so I will work with them.”

Our student empowerment moment was our first successful populist movement. However, the SBP betrayed our idealistic determination by selling out at the negotiating table. Rather, he secured a personal letter of recommendation from University President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. to the Yale Law School indicating that if Yale accepts anyone from Notre Dame, he should be the first admitted. That injustice sat so sourly with us that a decade later when he ran for a nationwide alumni office, he lost. Through his deep University affiliation, he was listed again on the alumni senate ballot — a rare second chance with so many alumni also available. We extracted our revenge against him as alumni, but not as students.

Sometimes it matters where you fall in the batting order, especially if you are the one beaned after a batter hits a grand slam. The year following our SBP betrayal, I ran for student body president. With such contempt, frustration and bitter feelings festering at the time, the student electorate was aggressively anti-establishment. Within that atmosphere, a Prime Mover announced his candidacy from the second bathroom stall of his campaign headquarters in the fourth floor lavatory, where he also held visiting hours for 15 minutes each day. His 12-point program included, among others, creating an oligarchy of himself and his close friends while abolishing all current student government institutions, taking over The Observer so that he and the paper could see eye-to-eye on every issue and sending out “feelers” to other St. Mary’s schools nationwide while conducting a Friday night fact-finding trip across the highway at the local St. Mary’s to ease 25 years of hostility. He attributed his run to never having any close friends in childhood, so he “was looking for some sort of affirmation.”

While mocking student government, he appeared from behind a burning bush (trash can) on his residence hall balcony to counter his critics “who have fought us with slander, rumors and a great deal of truth.” He staged his own kidnapping and adopted the graduation march song commencement hymn, “Pomp and Circumstance,” as his theme song which constantly blared out of windows across the campus. His campaign genius lay in his brilliant satire.

Just like several of this year’s U.S. presidential so-called “establishment” candidates, many of us who ran against the King would have worked tirelessly to seriously overcome past disappointments. We were just as angry and frustrated, but our wild mob electorate shut out reason and issues to vote against our previous SBP the only way they could, by voting for a joke. I was the only candidate to win a dorm — my own Lyons — in the first round where the King won all others but did not reach the minimum threshold. In the runoff against the surviving serious establishment candidate (not me), the King won by a record-setting 65.7 percent of the vote and only lost Cavanaugh Hall by four votes.

Ironically, the King had always planned to “satirize the election and then drop out of it.” However, students craved his antics; once an estimated 1,300 students stood beneath his balcony to hear him. After his election, the King summarized that for the electorate his antics were “something meaningful to say, and the students responded.”

Thus far this year, only anti-establishment Uncandidate the Cat owns a nomination. That may portend sad tidings come the summer for Sanders and November for Trump. Only Prime Mover miracles can alter those destinies.

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