Presidential Candidate Marianne Williamson Is Running on Empathy

The L.A.-based guru extends her Oprah-approved brand of political mindfulness to the Trump-weary
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Once upon a time, a nice Jewish girl from Texas christened herself “a bitch for God.” But after 13 books (seven of them New York Times bestsellers), officiating Liz Taylor’s eighth wedding, and umpteen appearances on Oprah, Bill Maher, and Good Morning America, Marianne Williamson is wagering that her nondenominational spiritual gestalt and robust public profile will make her a plausible candidate to take down the man who believes he is God. Which is how Williamson—an Angeleno whose entire political portfolio comprises a single failed bid for California’s 33rd District in 2013 as an independent—decided that she would join the almost comically swollen list of Democrats running for president.

Williamson left L.A. and her bully pulpit behind to take up residence in Iowa, making frequent jaunts to New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. For much of the past six months, since she first announced her candidacy, she’s seemed to be one of the longest of long shots in a primary oversubscribed with charismatic outliers, not to mention a former two-term vice president. But Williamson has performed better in national polls than more established candidates like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; and Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii. Williamson officially qualified for the second night of the Democratic debates in Miami (Thursday, June 27), when she’ll appear alongside big names like Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Harris. She may not have any political clout, but she appears to be camera-ready, calm, and prepped for her first national close up.

“It sounds like a miracle, I know,” Williamson laughs, conjuring the wildly profitable industry she built around A Course in Miracles, a 1,300-page self-study program of spiritual psychotherapy she happened upon on a friend’s coffee table in New York in 1977. Prior to that epiphany, the Houston-born Williamson was a flailing college dropout and aspiring cabaret singer; since then she has spent 36 years giving call-to-action talks at sold-out seminars on everything from God to aging to money to relationships to diets. It’s made her a household name in the motivational/ inspirational capitals of L.A. and New York. And in a D.C. culture now more comic than platonic, she’s practically Thomas Jefferson—The Washington Post recently dubbed her the nation’s would-be healer in chief.

Whether or not an inspirational instructor can motivate the cynical, despondent masses—well, that’s another story. And if we’ve learned anything over the last two and a half painful years it’s that nobody out-bitch-tweets Donald Trump. But the diminutive Williamson believes that the prescription for healing an ailing America is actually the opposite of bitching: It’s belief, faith, mass love–group therapy on a national level. If anybody could play Jesus to Trump’s Antichrist, Williamson is, as our wayward president would put it, straight out of central casting.

“I believe we can transform and encourage powerful citizen involvement to heal our society,” she states, seemingly without guile.

Williamson’s plea for societal cleansing started with 1997’s Healing the Soul of America, her first best-seller, which topped The New York Times nonfiction list for 39 weeks. “I updated it last year,” she says, “and I found I had a lot more to say since Trump’s become president. So I started my new book while simultaneously deciding to run about a year and a half ago.” Published in April, A Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution confronts what Williamson calls “the cancerous politics of fear and divisiveness threatening us today.”

A cynic might interpret her presidential bid as the world’s most expensive book tour, but she insists she’s legit. Her last time at the campaign rodeo left her finishing fourth out of 16 candidates. “When that was over,” she confesses, sipping an Arnold Palmer at her campaign’s temporary HQ at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, “I felt like I’d scratched whatever political itch I’d come down with. So I was surprised—and somewhat inwardly jolted—by this presidential impulse that emerged in 2017. It was either a moment of clarity or a moment of craziness. “Then the New Age practicing Jew explains: “The Yiddish word meshuga means both ‘inspired’ and ‘crazy.’ Look, I think we need a political visionary right now more than we need a political mechanic.”

“If Trump harnessed fear for political purposes, why not harness love?”

Williamson has no illusions about the brutality of the 2020 race and has girded herself accordingly. “I prayed to God at the start of this for a second skin,” she says softly, “much tougher than the one I have now. But I refuse to get enrolled in the belief that to defeat Donald Trump in 2020 you have to be tough enough…. If Trump harnessed fear for political purposes, why not harness love? Far more people in this country love than hate, but those who hate, hate with more conviction. They’re louder. If we’re interested in winning in 2020, leading with anger is the stupidest thing we could possibly do.”

That might sound naive, but Williamson’s counterintuition makes emotional sense.

“Franklin Roosevelt said that the primary role of the presidency is moral leadership,” she says. “Americans are a decent people, but over the last 50 years, the concept of what it takes to live a good life—an ethical life—has been overtaken by corporatocracy. When I was a child, corporations were expected to have responsibility to the community, not just focus on fiduciary responsibilities to stockholders. Soulless economics has not brought us economic vibrancy. It’s destroyed our middle class and replaced a model of democracy with a model of aristocracy. We repudiated that in 1776—and need to repudiate it again.”

Pundits might question her political bona fides and cast her as an opportunistic dilettante, but Williamson is unfazed. “There are self-appointed gatekeepers who feel they have the right to say who and who is not a serious candidate,” she says. “When they say you’re a long shot, they create that reality. Experienced politicians took us into Iraq and Vietnam. Experienced politicians gave us the largest income inequality since 1929.”

And what of the chances for a President Williamson? “The truth is Donald Trump is president. So who can say what’s possible?”

Amen, sister.


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