The Children Who Count


I love Anne Lamott– I never agreed with everything she wrote, but I very much enjoy her nonfiction.  (Her novels kinda stink).  She is in general soft-hearted and soft-headed, and if for some reason I had to choose between that and being hard-hearted and hard-headed I would choose the former. 

Although both really are unacceptable, and here’s why: being muddle-headed about one’s arguments ultimately leads one to hard-heartedness.  So Anne Lamott can be wonderfully attuned to the fact that the Syrian three-year-olds of whom Donald Trump is afraid are human children, three-year-olds like the ones you know, with germy fingers and runny noses, and she can be blind to the fact that kids killed in abortions are also, you know, human children.   

And it’s her stance on abortion that really makes it so hard for me now to even enjoy her writing; it’s such a deviation from what she ought, as a bleeding-heart lefty, to be championing.  Whenever she hits the topic she strikes a sour note. I’m not surprised when someone like Trump reads certain kids out of his scope of care; I was never under the impression that an excess of mercy was one of his weaknesses.  But I am surprised when Lamott reads some people out, and I am, now and always, convinced that there will come a time when lefties see that the logic of their generalized attitude of pity in the case of things like the refugee crisis– which is so easily mocked by people like Trump as a failure of realism– ought to extend to small humans who are even more vulnerable.  This is what Charles Camosy has called the Democratic party’s baffling “Costanza option”– its tendency, on abortion, to “do the opposite” of what one would expect it to do, given its other commitments.

There’s a strange parallel here: both Lamott and Trump regard some human children as not-yet-part of who we care about, as potentially threatening to our way of life.  “The children we do have,” the ones who are already born, are in Lamott’s view in some way in competition with the children we do not yet “have,” i.e. who have not yet made their outside debuts yet.  In the same way, Trump sees the refugee children as not-yet-part of who we care about, and in competition with the children we do care about.

In a 2006 LA Times editorial, Lamott wrote that

“I am so confused about why we are still having to argue with patriarchal sentimentality about teeny weenie so-called babies…

“…as a Christian and a feminist, the most important message I can carry and fight for is the sacredness of each human life, and reproductive rights for all women is a crucial part of that: It is a moral necessity that we not be forced to bring children into the world for whom we cannot be responsible and adoring and present. We must not inflict life on children who will be resented; we must not inflict unwanted children on society.”

I wonder if, given the current issue she has (rightly, in my view) taken up, she might want to reconsider the way that she spoke of these other children.

2 responses to “The Children Who Count

  1. Margaret Brannigan Kelly

    Somewhere between Lucy Stone and Shulamith Firestone, feminist thinking changed. How and why and what is to be done? Wondering.

  2. Margaret Brannigan Kelly

    This Shulamith Firestone story in the New Yorker has clues.

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