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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

Imagine if Lou Holtz had never spoken

Can you imagine what would have happened if Donald Trump didn’t run for office in 2016?

This is a rhetorical question that might leave you grasping for fruit just beyond your reach like Tantalus, picking up “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells feverishly to see if it would be possible to erase the chaotic four years of Trump’s term in office and convince Hillary Clinton to campaign in Wisconsin. It is a loaded, complicated, painful question, but former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz leaves it unanswered.  

By now, you have probably heard about Lou Holtz and the speech he gave in support of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention a week ago. Lou Holtz has already received all forms of criticism and critique for what he said, including Notre Dame President Jenkins making sure to distance the University from Lou Holtz’s political stance and a powerful letter to the editor in the Observer that couldn’t critique Holtz better. However, in light of the fact that Trump announced this past Friday that Holtz would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor possible, it seems highly relevant to address some of the things that Holtz said in his speech. 

Holtz referenced his statue on Notre Dame’s campus, with the words “trust, commitment and love” written on it, three words that Holtz guide him in his life choices, including his political ones, and including his support for Trump. Holtz briefly outlined his support for Trump according to three questions based on these words, and I will respond to each in turn:

Can we trust Trump? 

According to Holtz, the answer is yes because Trump “says what he means, he means what he says.” The evidence for this claim is far foggier. Whether it comes to the covfefe or his refusal to concretely say that he will accept the results of the 2020 election, we are often left filling in the gaps to discern what Trump’s intentions really are. Is this the mark of a mad genius or a reality TV show host thrust into confusion when his cue cards are mixed up? Ask Holtz because Trump apparently says what he means. 

Is Trump committed to doing his very best? 

Holtz stated that Trump always finds a way to get what he wants done. Commitment to reach a goal and actively reaching that goal are different things, however. We all know politics can be complicated, that intentionality and results are governed to some extent by who holds power in Congress, how the district lines are gerrymandered annually and a president’s tact for forging connections. Let us look not at Trump’s political performance to find this “commitment to excellence,” then, but rather to his pre-presidential days. By now Trump has ensured that we all know he went to Wharton (for an undergraduate degree, by the way), where the roots of his commitment to excellence supposedly grew. However, Trump was a transfer student from Fordham who got into Wharton through the help of family connections, performed very average once he got there and became a businessman who filed for bankruptcy six times. The commitment and the results just…aren’t…there.

Does Trump love people? Does he care about others? 

I had to play the tape back a couple of times to make sure I heard Holtz correctly for this one. Apparently, Trump has demonstrated that he loves and cares about others through his “prison reform, advocating for school choice and welfare reform…[and that Trump] wants Americans from all walks of life to succeed and live the American dream.” I have written various columns in the past about the decaying idea of the American Dream and how it is a façade. The ideas of the American Dream do not sound so bad when they are isolated by themselves. For some it is comforting to think that anybody can succeed and fulfill their dreams of a white picket fence reality. But this reality is a snow globe that ignores the systematic and systemic barriers in place that fervently seek to block those who look different than the old, white men in power from dethroning them (the analogy of Trump awarding Holtz with the Medal of Freedom and the spoils system of Andrew Jackson rewarding his loyal followers is an excellent example of this). I admit that there may be a gap between measuring someone’s commitment by looking at the results they achieve. But a president who openly touts racist and classist conflict when he refers to the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream,” a president who separated families at the border as a result of his “zero tolerance” policy and a president who has a history of insulting and degrading women cannot be said to love and care for others. 

Notre Dame is a university that is committed to excellence, whether that standard be met academically, in the sports world, or in the quality of engagement with the world. According to Holtz, Trump is a “consistent winner,” but there is far more nuance to Notre Dame’s brand of excellence than a Machiavellian notion of “winning.” Toting winning as a banner or measure of excellence inevitably ignores the “loser,” inevitably loses track of who was stepped on and who was taken advantage of through the process of winning.

Can you imagine what would have happened if Donald Trump didn’t run for office in 2016? Lou Holtz leaves this question unanswered. I leave you to ponder it as well, but send Doc Brown and Marty McFly my regards.

Gabriel Niforatos is a senior majoring in political science with minors in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and Theology. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at or @g_niforatos on Twitter.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.