Note: This post has been amended; see text in blue.
~ CC, August 1, 2019
Among reporters and pundits and people whose mouths are agape over the sh-t show that American politix has become, the consensus seems to be that McSpirituality/New-Wage guru Marianne Williamson, whose presidential run I lambasted earlier this month, did better than expected on last night's Democratic primary "debates." (I still can't seem to bring myself to use the word "debates" without quotation marks, given the insane number of candidates and the arbitrary formats for these gabfests. Even so, I think that my current favorite, Senator Elizabeth Warren, shone as the true star.)
I will concede that Williamson's performance during last night's lineup was stronger than her previous effort, mostly because the CNN mods called on her more. That performance arguably gave her presidential shampaign some momentum, leading some watchers and would-be influencers to declare her the unironic breakout star of last night's round (as opposed to being the ironic breakout star in the first round). And as with that previous round, her appearance led to a flurry of Googling; per GoogleTrends, she was the most-searched of the ten candidates during the debate in 49 of 50 states. (Montana was the lone exception; one wag suggested that it was because Montana Governor Steve Bullock was the number-one search in his own home state).
On stage, Williamson did seem to offer a couple of firm-ish policy ideas, controversial as some of them might be (e.g., her thoughts on reparations for descendants of African slaves), though invariably she would circle back to more abstract McSpirituality babble that sometimes didn't sound so different from fundamentalist hypoChristian talk about the devil -- such as when she warned of a "dark psychic force" in America. Despite this, or in some cases because of it, more than one of her utterances prompted some pretty loud and boisterous cheers from the live audience.
Not to mention the cheers on the Interwebs, as Williamson's online fans solidified her standing as the "orb queen" of the 2020 campaign. In the Washington Post, Avi Selk wrote:
In the few minutes she got to speak, Williamson did not disappoint the online fan club of professed occultists, liberal peaceniks and ironic memeophiles who have gathered around the 67-year-old New Age guru’s metaphysical campaign for the White House...One person organizing what has been called "an occult task force" said that a group of 13 "chaos magicians," witches, and energy workers have been performing synchronized "gestures" to help their favorite candidate get airtime during the debates and throughout the race. Chaos magick, as Selk explains, is "a postmodern occult belief system that dates to the 1970s and bears similarities to the 'Course in Miracles' that Williamson preaches, insofar as both treat reality as a malleable thing that can be manipulated with ritualized thoughts."
...Williamson has harnessed something from the body politic, whether love is the best term for it. Obsession might better describe her online community of devotees. Informally known as the “orb gang,” they celebrate Williamson’s mystical utterances with various levels of irony and earnestness — and a passion some of her rival Democrats might envy.
Yup, sounds familiar. And Williamson does have quite the (religious) cult following, as evidenced by the fact that there are actually Marianne votive candles on the market. But let's put things in perspective. As Selk notes:
Magical thinking is not wholly alien to American politics. In “Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump,” the Blondie-bassist-turned-author Gary Lachman chronicles how a handful of Internet jokesters coalesced in 2015 to make ironic memes about Donald Trump somehow winning the presidency.Yes, and as we've discussed previously on this blog, Trump has at least a small share of New-Wage/McSpirituality supporters, as well as wackadoodle fringe conspiranoid followers, who engage in their own kind of magical thinking.
But let's not forget "Christian" magical thinking, of which the very vocal majority of the magical thinkers working on behalf of Donald John Trump are practitioners. They're out there. Way out there. And Trump is busily pandering to them and sometimes even pretending to be one of them.
So Marianne Williamson is not alone in attracting a cult following of magical thinkers and random irrational folk. There's definitely a cult of Trump -- and even though I don't believe in fighting cults with cults (which Marianne and her army of airy-fairies appear to be trying to do), so far it appears that the Trump cult is the more dangerous and destructive force, because it is by and large a cult of hate, and it is the one now in power.
All of which raises a few disturbing questions about what would happen if it really were to come down to Trump versus Williamson -- with the irrational, hateful MAGAnoids and the fiercely self-righteous prayer warriors/theocraps/Christian Sharia law proponents on one side, and the irrational, love-and-light-infused "chaos magicians" and new-age ninnies on the other. First, where does that leave the rest of the citizens of the republic -- those of us who are clinging to what is left of our sanity and critical faculties, and who want to elect a qualified president (like Elizabeth Warren, for instance) who will try to deal with real-world problems in a realistic and practical way that will be inclusionary rather than exclusionary?
Secondly, might such a rivalry set a horrid precedent regarding Church/State separation? Even though I've previously said (and still think) that I find Williamson's brand of McSpirituality, and her willingness to thread it throughout her political rhetoric, to be marginally less offensive and concerning than the "Christian" theocrap-ic efforts to take over American politix, I am still a firm believer in secular politics.
And finally, would a Trump v Williamson ballot ultimately result in Trump's re-election? I'm afraid we already know the answer to that question.
Vox's Emily Stewart conceded that notwithstanding the new-agey babble, several of Williamson's statements last night made a lot of sense. Wrote Stewart:
One of her biggest moments was when she took aim at her fellow candidates on the issue of money in politics. “For politicians, including my fellow candidates who themselves have taken tens of thousands and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars from these same corporate donors, to think that they now have the moral authority to say, ‘We’re going to take them on,’ I don’t think the Democratic Party should be surprised that so many Americans believe ‘yadda, yadda, yadda,’” she said, to applause.Point taken. But if I may interject another plug, Elizabeth Warren is one of those who famously hasn't taken money from corrupt corporate donors either. Just saying.
Williamson also had some profound words last night about race and inequality, and unless you're totally in denial, you really can't argue with statements such as the one she made about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the role that systemic racism has played in that horror. She said:
This is part of the dark underbelly of American society -- the racism, the bigotry...We need to say it like it is. It’s bigger than Flint. It’s all over this country. It’s particularly people of color. It’s particularly people who do not have the money to fight back, and if the Democrats don’t start saying it, then why would those people feel they’re there for us? And if those people don’t feel it, they won’t vote for us and Donald Trump will win.Yet Williamson seemed to be veering dangerously close to Trump I-alone-can-fix-it territory when she declared, in her closing statement:
...I want a politics that speaks to the heart. Because the only way to fight — you keep talking about how we’re going to fight Donald Trump. You can’t fight dog whistles. You have to override. And the only way you can override them is with new voices, voices of energy that only come from the fact that America has been willing to live up to our own mistakes, atone for our own mistakes, make amends for our own mistakes, love each other, love our democracy, love future generations. Something emotional and psychological that will not be emerging from anything on this. It will emerge from something I’m the one who is qualified to bring forth.Now, that's a steaming heap of abject McSpirituality narcissism if I ever smelt it. On the other hand, it could be argued that Herr Twitler's "politics" speaks to the heart -- the dark heart, that is. Which sort of gives credence to the declaration by some that Williamson is in a sense a "progressive" version of Trump. See all that stuff about cults, above.
And actually she may not even be all that "progressive," and certainly not a "leftist," according to at least one observer. Just ahead of part 1 of the second round of Dem "debates," Noah Berlatzky posted a critical piece about Williamson on NBC News' Think site, exploring an angle of the New-Agey "love and light" passive-aggressiveness and hypocrisy that I touched on in my previous post about Williamson's candidacy. Granted, Berlatzky went deeper into the issue than I did in my post, writing that Williamson's "supposedly empowering rhetoric masks a mean-spirited individualism." He explained:
Williamson, like conservative thinkers, often blames material problems on personal failures. Her ideology may sound airy and inoffensive, but it is ultimately one of neoliberal victim shaming. And it would lead to harmful policies if she were, by some miracle, to be elected to public office.Over the 13 years that this Whirled has been spinning, I've written several times about the general theme of New-Age guilt myself, that is, about the New-Age "you create your own reality" mindset, which later evolved into the Law of Attraction dogma popularized by the atrocious New-Wage moviemercial The Secret. These seemingly empowering concepts have all too often been flipped, becoming just another excuse to blame people for their own misfortunes. Everyone from Secret creator Rhonda Byrne to Abraham-Hicks to Joe Vitale has jumped on that blame train. Marianne Williamson wasn't part of The Secret franchise, but much of her work is rooted in that same faux-empowerment mentality.
I do have a couple of minor quibbles with Berlatzky's piece. My husband Ron Kaye pointed out, and I agree with him, that Berlatzky's description of Williamson's current rhetoric as "hippie" is inaccurate. Historically the hippies were more benign than the calculating, crapitalistic manipulator that Williamson has become over the decades.
And I am not quite as sure as Berlatzky seems to be that the blame-the-vic/mean-spirited individualist mindset would translate directly to harmful policies in the unlikely event of a Williamson presidency, at least if the policy outlines on her Marianne 2020 web site are any indication. (Aside from various unscientific declarations on vaccines (on which she seems to have walked back a bit) and clinical depression and AIDS, she doesn't seem to be a complete enemy of science, at least where climate science is concerned. So in that regard she comes out ahead of the Trumpsters and that whole gang of GOP climate-crisis deniers. But then again, Trump et al. have set the science bar pretty low, so consider this faint praise.)
And where various other social and economic issues are concerned, ya never know. If she is like most of her fellow leaders in what my pal and blogging colleague Chris Locke of Mystic Bourgeoisie fame calls the "Spiritual Industrial Complex," a Williamson presidency would end up being as much of a disaster for the poor and struggling as the Trump reign is turning out to be. It would just have different slogans and music and caps.
This could all be moot, of course. After all, it's doubtful that Williamson's stage performances will really gain her much traction. Perhaps debate coach Todd Graham, whose piece on the CNN site I linked to earlier in this post (here it is again), and who gave Williamson a grade of D-minus for last night's performance, said it best:
The problem with Williamson in this debate is that for every legitimate criticism of our government she gave -- and there were several -- she lacked follow-up solutions. She derided the "political insider game and wonkiness and intellectual argument," without offering a clear picture of her practical alternative. And her closing statement was something about emotional and psychological gobbledygook that finished with a crescendo like she was singing the big finale of a Broadway musical.Precisely.
And if you don't mind me citing myself, let's review the reasons that despite her claims in her closing statement about being uniquely qualified to beat Trump, Marianne Williamson is not the one to do it. Besides Trump himself, there are...
...[Trump's] base, too: a firewall of irrational, tenacious MAGA soldiers who stick with their leader through thick and thicker, through dumb and dumber. Included among these supporters are viciously hateful MRAs (men's rights activists) who fancy themselves "alpha males" and spend their social media lives raging against women, feminism, "SJWs" ("social justice warriors"), and all manner of "snowflakes."... Then there are the theocrats who still think new-age spirituality is the work of the devil. And of course there are the random racists, xenophobes, and garden-variety ignoranti who won't even consider anyone but Trump, because they see him as their only hope to save America from a host of real and imaginary (mostly imaginary) threats. The hatriarchy truly has Trump's back. And beyond Trump's base, there is a wide field of powerful Republicans who are bent on remaking America in their own image and that of their wealthy donors. That's a lot for one faux-accented, love-spouting guru to tackle, even if she is a bad-ass Jewish Texan.It's entirely possible that despite the spike from last night's gig, Marianne's momentum is slowing down, and that she won't be able to qualify for the September "debates" in her former hometown and mine, Houston. Regardless, she would be doing us all a favor if she would drop out of the race sooner rather than later. She can still continue to entertain us from the sidelines.
However solid some of her ideas may be, Williamson's public persona and general flakiness, not to mention her utter lack of qualifications for the most powerful position in the world, overshadow all of those good ideas.
Related on this Whirled:
- 5 July 2019: So wrong, Marianne -- Musings on Williamson's first debate performance in late June, on her history as a New-Wage icon, on the new-agey "love and light" mindset, and on why Marianne is the wrong choice to go up against Trump.
- 10 January, 2011: Snippets for a Monday afternoon (under "What's wrong with this (big) picture?") -- Marianne's weight loss book and the totally contrived marketing backstory that she cooked up with Oprah.
- 12 August 2008: Brilliant, Gorgeous, Talented and Fabulous -- The above-mentioned Chris Locke at the Mystic B blog writes snarkily and cleverly about Marianne, A Course in Miracles (the source for her original cash cow), and more.
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