Historians of the future should note that before Democrats gave up and attempted a coup to reinstall Barack Obama as president in 2020, they fielded about twenty profoundly eccentric candidates.
Following the first debate, the candidate whose name was searched online the most, according to Google, was 66-year-old author and New Age guru Marianne Williamson.
While not afforded many opportunities to speak during the debate, she went viral with a closing statement that addressed Trump directly and got metaphysical:
I have an idea about Donald Trump: Donald Trump is not going to be beaten just by insider politics talk. He’s not going to be beaten just by somebody who has plans. He’s going to be beaten by somebody who has an idea what the man has done. This man has reached into the psyche of the American people and he has harnessed fear for political purposes.
So, Mr. President—if you’re listening—I want you to hear me, please: You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out. So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and sir, love will win.
As George W. Bush remarked about Trump’s inauguration speech, “That was some weird [stuff].” The co-creator of Twin Peaks tweeted a hilarious video of her remarks set to that famously surreal show’s theme music.
As much of an aberration as some tried to make her out to be, Williamson’s blending of utopian socialism and pagan mysticism has deep roots in the left, going back to 19th-century thinkers such as Edward Carpenter. The atheist George Orwell probably had the hippie Carpenter in mind when he grumbled, “One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.”
Williamson is the modern version of this figure, but to further understand her we need to go into her background and spiritual beliefs.
Born in Houston to an immigration lawyer and raised in Conservative Judaism, her upbringing maybe doesn’t scream future New Age guru. However, they didn’t call it “that old, weird America” for nothing, and truthfully there’s plenty of precedent for her. The American Midwest has always been a bastion of occultism and New Age-ism—from the former Detroit Tigers owner John E. Fetzer and Indiana’s Camp Chesterfield, to the “I AM” Activity in Chicago (and even the Kansas fortune-teller in The Wizard of Oz). And though American Buddhists are less than 5 percent of the population, about 30 percent of them are Jews.
In 1992 Williamson became famous for her spiritual advice book A Return to Love, which was given a push on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. Two years later she was visiting Bill and Hillary Clinton at Camp David, and eventually Hollywood came calling (she counts the Kardashians and Gwyneth Paltrow as fans). Her popular “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate…” speech appeared in the 2005 Samuel L. Jackson movie Coach Carter. She was even mocked in the 1995 comedy Jeffrey in a scene where Sigourney Weaver, playing the guru Debra Moorehouse, delivers a nutty “inspirational” monologue.
Williamson is the perfect role model for the kind of person who describes themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” She came of age during the ’60s and ’70s occult-mysticism explosion (think Silva Mind Control, EST, Uri Geller, The Seth Material, Jonathan Livingston Seagull). In the ’70s, Williamson read the books of Ram Dass and Rajneesh (the latter was the Oregon cult leader from that Netflix doc), and studied Transcendental Meditation. She’s a child of practically every spiritual fad of the hippie era, save for the Jesus-freak movement, Scientology, and the Manson family. Her spiritual manifesto is the “COEXIST” bumper sticker.
Williamson was initiated into what my bookstore calls “Alternative Spirituality” through the best-selling ’70s book A Course in Miracles, which was written by Helen Schucman, a woman who claimed her work was divinely inspired and dictated to her by Jesus Christ. Like the man who greatly influenced Trump, his pastor Norman Vincent Peale, A Course in Miracles was rooted in 19th-century American religions such as Christian Science and New Thought (one can detect in Williamson traces of the iron-willed Christian Science founder, Mary Baker Eddy). A NYT piece describes Miracles as teaching that “Reality was illusory; conflicts dissolve when one realizes the power of love and forgiveness. This change in perception, the book’s narrator says, produces miracles.”
Whatever one makes of her mystic credentials, Williamson is relatively new to politics. After unsuccessfully running for Congress in 2014, she backed Bernie over Hillary in 2015–16. Noticing that the Democrats have no obvious nominee for the first time in decades, and that Trump broke down the sense of predictability in politics, Williamson sees the door to the presidency as being open.
She has positioned herself as a spiritual antagonist to Trump. As she confided to the NYT, “He is harnessing metaphysical traditions but dark ones.” Given President Trump’s background in New Thought, or the belief that words and ideas have a kind of causative and energetic power, her argument is essentially that she could be the good witch to Trump’s bad witch (n.b. her witchy use of the phrase “cast out” when she said, “You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out”).
Like any witch, Williamson believes you can speak things into and out of existence. In her 1980s “spiritual meetings” with men suffering from HIV, Williamson admonished the men “to focus on love” and forbade them from using words like “death” altogether. This is Christian Science to a tee. God is goodness and there can be no such thing as evil. Pain and illness are not real. If they happen to you it is because of the failure of the human senses. Mary Baker Eddy: “God is the only life and this life is truth and love and that divine truth casts out supposed error and heals the sick.” Accordingly, Baker believed that God never made a man sick. A Course in Miracles begins with, “Nothing unreal exists. Nothing real can be threatened. Herein lies the peace of God.”
These beliefs square nicely with the public policies of the modern left. Social problems are often rooted in the troubling “perceptions” or “narratives” concerning the problem. Differences between people or groups are either chimeras or created by stereotypes, discrimination, and systemic bigotry. Everything you don’t like is a “social construct.” The only thing that needs to be changed is our attitude or the narrative. Put even shorter: It is all in our heads.
The deep popularity of this sort of Gnostic thinking needs to be understood. In 2019, even the American government says your “real body” can be something other than your physical body.
In many ways, Williamson is the canary in the coal mine for the left. Stale, pale, male atheists and materialists are fading from power (think Bernie Sanders). They will be replaced by the young and the diverse, who will espouse all sorts of strange spiritual beliefs. The spiritual left is back.
As amusingly white as Williamson’s mysticism can appear to be, it’s on the rise with black Americans as well. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez recently gave her birth time to an astrologer. Though people think New Age and occultism went away in the ’70s, it really just blended into the mainstream. Marilyn Ferguson’s best-selling The Aquarian Conspiracy eventually got that author a meeting with Al Gore in the White House. Ronald and Nancy Reagan famously kept an astrologer handy. Hillary Clinton attempted to commune with a dead Eleanor Roosevelt. When Obama was campaigning in 2008 he was called a light-worker and spoke of his own future presidency with messianic rhetoric. Fifteen years after she made Marianne Williamson’s career, Oprah said of Obama, “It isn’t enough to tell the truth. We need politicians who know how to be the truth.”
Marianne Williamson is probably too old, too white, and not woke enough to make it to the White House. However, a future candidate who builds on her template might. Someone who looks like Kamala Harris but speaks like Marianne Williamson could be electric. As it is, for the Democrats and maybe the rest of us, be prepared for the season of the witch.