Spearheaded by a group of seniors who have since graduated and me, the traditional write-in “joke” ticket of two popular sandwiches from Wisemiller’s Deli — Hot Chick and Chicken Madness — saw unprecedented success in last year’s race for the Georgetown University Student Association presidency.
Though it usually amounted to no more than a fringe movement garnering only a miniscule share of the votes cast, last year, the ticket rode a wave of anti-establishment sentiment to finish in close second to victors Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and Chris Fisk (COL ’17).
Indeed, the final tally, 878 to 1383, remains disputed to this day because of the Election Commission’s refusal to count improperly formatted write-in submissions, and was likely much closer in reality.
Upon assuming de facto control of the movement, I hoped to build on this impressive showing and translate our newfound momentum into further success. In September 2016, Chicken Madness garnered widespread attention by earning a seat in the GUSA senate, only to be replaced after a vote of exclusion held by the non-sandwich members of the body.
Though frustrating at the time, the ticket’s dismissal only served to increase campus dissatisfaction with GUSA’s insularity, offering a window for a more professionalized campaign to perform even better in the executive race. The goal was not merely to exceed expectations; the goal was to win.
Then, on Nov. 8, everything changed.
Up to that point, Chicken Madness had drawn numerous comparisons, however unwanted, to the candidacy of President Donald Trump, due to the former reality television star’s penchant for populism and rhetorical condemnations of governmental elitism and inaccessibility.
When asked, we rebuked these associations in the strongest possible terms. While Chicken Madness was lightheartedly satirical, poking fun at those who took their political ambitions too seriously, Trump’s fear-mongering stirred a poisonous concoction of hatred, bigotry and paranoia.
Moreover, we believed that the stark difference in importance between issues addressed at the federal and student levels of governance would be enough to disprove any linkages between the two campaigns. The president of the United States can impact the lives of millions with the stroke of a pen; GUSA, unless it is hiding something big in that budget, cannot.
Trump’s victory irreparably altered the political climate. Jokes that dominated the cultural scene suddenly were not funny anymore: they became terrifying predictors of what was to come — heart-wrenching reminders of what could have been.
Conceptions of outsider tickets underwent a similarly profound shift. Before Trump’s victory, witnessing the success of a candidate with an overt disdain for stuffy norms was a source of hilarity and excitement. But the thrill of an absurdist victory evaporated the moment a campaign of this nature succeeded when the stakes were at their highest.
Nov. 8 did not change my perception of GUSA. I still consider the institution intrinsically flawed and categorically unrepresentative of a campus population that views it with apathy and disdain.
The December referendum is the most recent example of GUSA’s unabashed advancement of its own priorities over those genuinely sought by its constituents. Where would “reorganize the senate and policy teams” rank among the average student’s suggestions to improve life at Georgetown? It is certainly not on my list.
Still, now is not the time for divisiveness. The ethos of the United States is fractured along racial, religious and ideological fault lines that pit classmates, friends and family members against one another. Recent constitutional crises jeopardize not only short-term security but also the lasting viability of the most fundamental American values.
In this context, it would be far easier to continue riling public antipathy and mocking the present administration than to undertake the difficult task of promoting constructive change. But petty obstructionism and the avoidance of engagement are luxuries inherent to periods when our leadership can be trusted to consistently put the best interests of the American people first and faithfully execute the foundational laws of the state. Now is not that time.
It is with this sobering acknowledgment that I pledge to refrain from actively managing the operations of the Chicken Madness campaign during this election season. We will hopefully again face a moment when political contests can be the target of satirical ridicule, when the enjoyment derived from upsetting the established order produces no harm for those affected by a failure of the system. But now is not the time.
Matthew Gregory is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.
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