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Marianne Williamson: the second Democratic debate is a reminder not to underestimate this candidate

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Marianne Williamson

The spiritual guru and presidential hopeful has been largely ignored by pundits until now. That is a huge mistake.

Did you watch the second round of Democratic debates?

We sympathise. It was all a bit of a mess, really. There were too many people, with too few things to say, up on that stage for anything to make sense. When Elizabeth Warren cut across the ramblings of former Representative John Delaney to say “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running to be the president of the United States to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” she expressed the bone-weary malaise of many people watching this election cycle from afar. What’s that expression again? Too many cooks in the kitchen?

Warren was a formidable figure at the debate, dominating the speaking time alongside Bernie Sanders. She managed to at least put forth some of her policy ideas before the debate descended into a game of scrappy comeback tennis, with the candidates looking to score points off each other rather than reckoning with the gaping divide within the party on such crucial subjects as healthcare, immigration and climate change

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Still, the comebacks. Oh, the comebacks! Warren had some bruisers, as did Bernie Sanders. And so did Marianne Williamson.

Marianne Williamson at the second Democratic debates.
Marianne Williamson at the second Democratic debates.

Until the second Democratic debates Williamson was an outsider and an underdog, a spiritual guru – she works with Oprah and Brooke Shields, Cher and Steven Tyler have raved about her – from California with no experience in politics who has thrown her hat into the ring with Goop-y aplomb. Williamson is the author of 12 books (four of them bestsellers) that teach people how to utilise the power of “miracles”. Her only political experience was an unsuccessful congressional bid in 2014. She’s single, which means that if she is elected in 2020 she would be America’s first single president. She calls herself a “bitch for God”. She was the celebrant at one of Elizabeth Taylor’s weddings. Alanis Morissette has written a song about her. Laura Dern was her one-time roommate. Gwyneth Paltrow has called her a “spiritual legend”, which, when you think about it, is tantamount to Jesus telling the disciples of Nazareth that they should really check out the commandments of this Moses guy. 

And yet there Williamson was on the far left of the debate stage saying about the most sensible thing on the subject of systemic racism in the US as any of the candidates said throughout the whole night.

Such as: “We have communities, particularly communities of colour and disadvantaged communities all over this country who are suffering from environmental justice.” That comment was made as a pointed remark about the Flint water crisis. “I assure you, I lived in Grosse Point [a wealthy Michigan coastal area],” Williamson added. “What happened in Flint would not have happened in Grosse Point. This is part of the dark underbelly of American society.” 

Or this, which she said on the subject of reparations: “It’s not $500 billion in financial assistance. It’s… a payment of a debt that is owed. That is what reparations is… We need to realise that when it comes to the economic gap between blacks and whites in America, it does come from a great injustice that has never been dealt with.”

Of course, Williamson tempered these remarks with the language of mysticism that is so entwined with her personal brand. So reparations are part of “deep truth telling” that help “people heal”. And racism is a “dark psychic force” peddled by Trump and his “collectivised hatred” that will lead to “very dark days” for the Democrats.

It’s this rhetoric that has made Williamson such a controversial and underestimated figure in the presidential race thus far. But hey – didn’t we say that about Trump back in 2016? Didn’t we say that Trump would never get the Republican nomination, let alone make it to the White House? Well, look at us now.

Marianne Williamson and Stephen Colbert
Marianne Williamson speaks to Stephen Colbert. 

Williamson is still a controversial figure. How could she not be? She has called vaccinations “Orwellian”. (She has since apologised and said that vaccinations “when they are called for” are necessary.) She believes that antidepressants are overprescribed and that there “is a spectrum of normal human despair that is not mental illness”.

She’s had the viral moments that this era of politics requires, too. In July, Williamson photoshopped herself into an American Vogue spread that, perhaps pointedly, left her out of a photoshoot of the main female candidates for the Democratic nomination: Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard and Kirsten Gillibrand. After the first debate, Williamson shocked Joe Biden and Harris by telling them that the first person she would call if elected would be New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern. “Her goal is to make New Zealand the best place in the world for a child to grow up,” Williamson said. “I would tell her: ‘Girlfriend, you are so on.’” Suddenly, after these two news stories, google searches and interest in Williamson skyrocketed into the stratosphere. 

Are you surprised? The thing about Williamson is that, as Buzzfeed noted, she’s fun to read and – crucially – write about. “Some people think I’m absolutely bonkers,” Williamson noted, somewhat sagely, to the Guardian. Williamson is interesting. She has some very interesting things to say. She also has some very uninteresting and even downright dangerous things to say. But she keeps saying them, all of it. 

Marianne Williamson
Marianne Williamson.

Whether or not Williamson can make it all the way to the Democratic nomination for the 2020 election still remains to be seen. Williamson’s policy is what she has called the ‘politics of love’, incidentally also the name of her most recent book. It involves paying slave reparations as a matter of overwhelming moral imperative. She wants Medicare for all, universal minimum wage, a reversal of climate change and to make America’s illegal immigrants citizens. She’s fiercely anti-Trump – he of the “collectivised hatred” – and she wants to help America heal in the aftermath of his term.

Healing, love, communion, connection, faith. This is the language of Big Wellness – an industry worth some $4.2 trillion globally – writ large for one of the first times on the political stage. In the world of 2019, which is also the world of Goop and shamans and crystal sound baths and feeling guilty about the state of our auras, this is a language that people in the US already speak. For many of them it might even be their native tongue.

“Spirituality is a path of the heart,” Williamson told Vanity Fair recently, when asked about why she wants to address these subjects from the political dais. “Any area of life divorced from the path of the heart is dysfunctional. People know this. We know it in our individual lives. Why do we pretend that as though it’s not true in our collective lives? Millions of Americans are religious, or spiritual, or into health and wellness, do yoga, meditate, go to [Alcoholics Anonymous], go to psychotherapy. This is America today.”

“I’m not saying anything everybody I know isn’t saying,” she added. “I’m just saying it when the microphone is on.” 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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