Sometimes it takes dramatic extremes to wake us up.
In literature, the character whose flaws highlight the good guy’s strengths is known as a foil. Mr. Hyde is Dr. Jekyll’s foil, helping readers value one’s goodness by contrast with the other’s evil. The Gollum is Bilbo Baggins’ foil. Voldemort is Dumbledore’s foil and Draco Malfoy is Harry Potter’s.
By definition, republicans and democrats serve as foils to one another. Early in any campaign, candidates try to distinguish themselves by taking polarized positions. Pro-this and anti-that. Over the course of weeks or months of speeches and debates, the distinction between the contenders becomes more and more pronounced until finally, as you enter the voting booth, one should seem black and the other white. One should seem bad and the other good.
The Joker serves as foil to Batman’s flawed, but triumphant goodness. Lex Luther highlights Superman’s naïve but superior strength. Ozmandias and The Watchman. Magneto and Professor X. Barry Kripke and Sheldon Cooper.
And Donald Trump?
Love him or hate him, Trump is far more than Ted Cruz’s or John Kasich’s foil. He’s far more, even, than Hillary’s or Bernie’s foils. Left to their own devices, these other candidates and their fallen comrades would have waged the familiar quadrennial war of words. This issue versus that issue. My position as distinct from yours. Most of us would have known that an election is scheduled for next November. Many of us would have watched a debate or two. Some of us would have answered a telephone survey, and a very important but small minority would have volunteered time or money to support a favorite candidate and defeat his or her foes. Primary and general election voter turnout would have been routine.
Not so since Trump entered the race. Voter turnout across states for both parties has reached record highs. The New Hampshire primary, for example, drew eleven thousand more ballots than ever before across parties, including an increase of fifteen percent among Republicans. States like Massachusetts and Maine recorded Republican primary turnouts between seventy and two hundred percent greater than ever before.
Thank you, Mr. Trump.
Thank you for jumpstarting our awareness of the state of the world. Thank you for ripping the blinders from our eyes. Thanks to you we are all now much more familiar with the dilemma of immigration reform, your great wall on the Rio Grande notwithstanding. Thanks to you, bigotry and racism and sexism and age-ism are all front-and-center in our thinking, your wealthy, white male-centric views duly noted. Thanks to you, education and the environment and same-sex marriage, crime and guns and mental healthcare are all fresh in our minds.
Thanks to you, we have a new perspective on bullying and free speech.
Thank you, Mr. Trump, for the swift kick in the bottom that we’ve needed for a very long time. Thank you for shattering our complacency and indolence. Before you took center stage, many of us had been lulled into indifference about anything that had no immediate effect on our wallets or our bellies. Sure, we were anxious wrecks about the housing market and the economy and healthcare and Social Security, but only in the most me-here-now ways. We were consumed with worry about getting the bills paid, about what will happen when we become ill and frail with age. Today, thanks to you, these are once again national issues. Thanks to you, we’ve begun to think in us-global-future terms.
I credit you, Mr. Trump, despite (or perhaps because of) the drama, disrespect and denigration of just about everything that we hold dear, for rousing our country from its self-centered slumber. Love you or hate you, it’d be hard to find anyone in these United States who doesn’t know you (that’s the point, isn’t it?) and who hasn’t been forced to take a position on the issues.
Foils help us to appreciate the good. A speeding ticket slows us down. A horrible car accident makes us buckle up. The Ebola outbreak increased Purell sales a million-fold and the Zika virus will do the same for bug sprays. Lead in Flint’s pipes is the best thing any bottled water company could ever wish for.
We live in a squeaky-wheel-gets-the-oil society. Thank you, Mr. Trump, for squeaking so loud and so long.
Now we just have to decide what to oil.
I hope, Mr. Trump, that your campaign helps us not only appreciate the good that we have, but encourages us to build more for the future. I hope that we are wise enough to learn from the lessons that you’re teaching us –many of them as a foil highlighting all that is good- so that our children’s lives and their children’s lives will be healthier, happier and more prosperous.
--------------------------------------------- Parenting Pointer ---------------------------------------
I don’t write as a democrat or a republican, independent or libertarian. I write as a parent and as a child-centered professional.
No matter how you feel about Trump or Cruz or Kasich, Clinton or Sanders, no matter how you feel about immigration or health reform or the economy or any of a hundred other critically important contemporary issues, if you’re reading this column chances are that you agree that one issue trumps all else (pun intended): our children’s needs.
Having been woken from indifference by “The Donald,” go out there now and act. Work for a campaign. Make calls and send emails and put up posters. Don’t let the interest and emotion that Mr. Trump stirs up die away. Use it to fuel constructive action. You have eight months to decide the future. Don’t just gawk and laugh and talk about the candidates and their campaigns, make a difference.
Make an informed decision about which candidate has the maturity and foresight and selflessness to invest in your children’s well-being, then go and vote.
Take your kids to the polls and show them what you do and how to do it so that they will someday do the same.
Don’t vote for today. Vote for all of our tomorrows.
Dr. Benjamin Garber is a New Hampshire licensed psychologist, internationally acclaimed speaker and prolific writer. He is the author of several books including: Holding Tight, Letting Go; The Healthy Parent’s ABC’s; Keeping Kids Out Of The Middle; Developmental Psychology For Family Law Professionals; The Roadmap to the Parenting Plan Worksheet. Recipient of the March of Dimes Distinction in Media Excellence award, he is an acclaimed speaker and professional educator. His website is www.HealthyParent.com.