When the fairy godmothers arrived at my crib shortly after I was born, they were probably stumped about what gift to bestow. Beauty, intelligence, humor and character had already been handed out, and anyway those are fairly common graces. Clearly, this called for something unique. And so it was that the ladies decided to grant me the power to make people angry. Of course, this is a gift that many have, but the genius of the fairies is that they gave me an ability that transcends politics, gender, religion and race.
In other words, I can give people from diametrically opposed points on the philosophical spectrum identical aneurysms. Not only that, I can do it in the same amount of time that God created the world.
Take last week, for example. I wrote a column about the mother who killed her little boy by nursing him with breast milk filled with drugs.
It was a harsh column, unforgiving and angry. If I could rewrite it today, I'd make it even harsher. For some readers, my lack of "compassion" for the mother was un-Christian, mean and ignorant. Those are not words picked out of thin air. They are direct quotes from emails. One lady, a self-described "fellow Catholic," preached to me about how I needed to brush up on the principles of our shared faith. The phrase "high horse" was thrown around, along with accusations of how judgmental I was.
Others demanded sympathy for this poor woman who was grieving the child that she had lost, completely ignoring the fact that she didn't "lose" the child, she killed him. These reactions were expected, and I anticipated them in my piece when I talked about our societal instinct to forgive the sinner. That's a lesson that never had much purchase with me. Even as a child, the parable of the Prodigal Son was annoying as hell, since I could never understand why dad would welcome back the no-good screw up when the other son was right there by his side living a decent life. And don't get me started on that sheep that wandered off from the herd.
But we are not supposed to point fingers anymore, unless they're aimed at Mike Pence by a state legislator who opposes his stand on LGBT issues. And speaking of Pence, he came to the Union League this week to stump for Lou Barletta, the GOP challenger for Bob Casey's senate seat. The welcoming committee on Broad Street included a bunch of women decked out like geriatric Red Riding Hoods, trying to make the point that Pence was going to force us all to have babies (those of us who still had functioning ovaries.)
It was almost too easy to ridicule the ladies, but I gave it my best shot on social media. That prompted one person to email me with the delightful observation that my face should replace the bloody coat hanger as a warning against overturning Roe v. Wade.
Then things took a sharp turn when an article about one of my immigration clients appeared in the newspaper mid-week. Samantha Melamed wrote a piece about a father of three US citizens who was in danger of being deported after I brought her attention to his plight. I was quoted in the piece about the zero tolerance policy of this administration.
Here is the reaction from reader Mike M: "The dude broke into this country multiple times, then broke more laws while here. Has two kids with an addict and now when it's time to leave you and her team up to write this sob story. When this "Bad Hombre" was sticking his (blank) in that addict, do you think he thought about what would happen if he got her pregnant?…This guy is the poster guy for deportation."
That was the printable part of his eleven emails.
Many others share Mike's beliefs that my client should be deported, and they strongly support Trump's position. Most of them are conservatives, and all of them have much better vocabularies than Mike. They are polite enough not to make personal attacks, but a few commented that I'm helping "illegals" stay in the country, so I'm therefore probably doing something "illegal."
Aside from showing an ignorance of what lawyers do, these friends are the flip side of the compassion coin. People who wouldn't judge the woman who killed her child are one extreme, while people who insist on judging a desperate father caught in a legal Catch-22 are the other. Both are cut from the same absolutist cloth.