The media response to Marianne Williamson’s debate night performance was somewhat predictable.
But so what. If we know anything about the political landscape in this post-Trumpian world it’s that media derision has none of the potency it once had. Witness how little effect they had in their efforts to derail Trump in 2016.
Surely a better indicator of Williamson’s impact is the fact that her name is the most googled of all the debate night candidates. And while the media might choose to laugh at Williamson rather than really engage with what she is saying, that says more about their lack of seriousness than hers.
Because Williamson is deadly serious. Suspend judgement and listen to her words for a moment and you would certainly hear that.
Her closing statement, for example, was a very clear-sighted take on where we’re at right now politically. She said that Donald Trump is not going to be beaten by insider politics or by someone who “just has plans”. Rather he’s going to be beaten by “someone who has a clear idea of what he has done.”
What he has done, she said, is reach “into the psyche of the American people and he has harnassed fear for political purposes.” The only way to counter that is to harnass love to similar ends, she said.
This is surely true. Because whether the love talk sticks in your craw or not, you have to acknowledge one thing: that there’s no way anyone is going to beat Trump by slugging it out with him in the usual manner.
Because in a political dogfight Trump will always stoop lower. He is unencumbered by the ethical and moral standards most of us adhere to. He will literally do whatever it takes.
But a candidate like Marianne Williamson has the ability to defuse him. I could foresee a presidential debate where Trump would be genuinely unnerved by Williamson. For the same reason that he unnerved his opponents in 2016. Because he would standing there asking himself the question: where did this come from?
Because if there is one positive note to be sounded by the election of Trump it is that we live at a moment in history where there is an incredible appetite for real change.
And Trump can’t be that change in 2020. And nor can any of the other Democratic candidates, who despite their surface diversity are in truth all singing from the same hymn sheet. But Williamson could.
She understands that when considering the phenomenon of Trump the key thing, as Steve Bannon noted recently in an address to the Oxford University student union, is to focus on the message not the signal.
Trump is the signal but the message runs much deeper than his presidency.
The message is that America is sick and, as Williamson has articulated many times during speeches and interviews, if you want to effectively treat the sickness you need a whole body approach.
That’s why the centerpiece of her candidacy has been a call for multi-billion dollar reparations to the African-American community for the impact of slavery.
Because Williamson understands that part of why America finds itself in the moral swamp of a Trump White House is that when you let past crimes go unaccounted for they fester, eating away at the social fabric of a nation, quietly undermining its conviction that it is founded on just principles.
And if you choose to dismiss Williamson as lightweight just because she’s most famous as a spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey, then take a look at the political impact her call for reparations has already had.
After she called for it during her official announcement in January it was taken up by most of the other Democrat candidates, with around a dozen of them since endorsing some form of reparations.
It started a national conversation on the subject that led to a congressional debate this week and only yesterday Trump himself called the idea “interesting” (while at the same time saying he doesn’t see it happening).
She has also called repeatedly for more money to be poured in to schools, what she calls a “massive realignment of investment on the part of the United States government in the direction of children eight years and under.”
Under-funded schools is of course a popular refrain among Democrats but how many of the other candidates recognise the scale of the unfolding disaster when millions of children live in poverty and go to schools with inadequate facilities.
She calls it a “humanitarian crisis”, “passive child abuse” even, but she’s also astute enough to recognise that when you fail to address these problems you are planting the seeds of economic crisis. Since the children you overlook now are your workforce of the future.
“If you want to take care of your economy 50 years from now take care of your children today,” she says.
I suppose the aspect of Williamson’s candidature that the media has the hardest time with is her ‘spirituality’.
Yet here again, Williamson seems to have her finger on the pulse far more than her media detractors.
Because what’s also clear about this moment is that among the wider public there is a deep thirst for spiritual truth.
For many people the moral wasteland of modern consumer capitalism leaves them feeling empty and in search of deeper meaning.
They believe in the profound reality of human connection and — hokey as it may sound — in the essential power of love, and they are looking for people to articulate and manifest this vision in public life.
Witness, for example, the popularity of Brenee Brown’s recent Netflix special. Or the fact that Tim Ryan, another candidate for the presidency, is an outspoken proponent of mindfulness meditation.
Of course there will be those who say that these things are the preserve of a middle-class liberal elite and can’t speak to a wider American audience, let alone Trump’s famous blue collar base.
But mindfulness is becoming more and more mainstream and is now being taught to millions of American schoolchildren. And as for Trump’s base, a message of faith, plainly delivered, is one way they perhaps can be reached.
So let’s see.
Marianne Williamson is offered a diametrically opposed vision of America to the one Trump offers — one in which healing, heartfulness and self-awareness are the guiding principles.
It might be exactly what America needs right now: a full mind-body treatment that addresses not merely the symptoms of the malaise, but it’s underlying cause.
It’s certainly no crazier to envision than what happened in 2016.