Author/activist/spiritualist Marianne Williamson made some waves at the first "debate" between Democrats running for president by deviating from the traditional script for such gabfests. Traditional candidates use televised debates to go into full Aaron Sorkin "West Wing" mode: they spew stump speech platitudes, impress us with their knowledge of Spanish, display maximum outrage at child separation policies at the border, baffle us with bullshit when they can't dazzle us with brilliance, and take passive aggressive cheap shots at the alleged front runners. Williamson in contrast comes off more like Seinfeld's holistic healer: whatever wisdom she expresses gets undermined by stylistic quirks too easy to satirize.
I'm not likely to support Marianne Williamson for president, but I found it telling that for the establishment, only her performance was "bonkers." Williamson may not be the person best able to inject a Martin Luther King style message of love power into a national political campaign, but on the other hand it's not clear to me that ANY person choosing to center on love, compassion, healing, etc. would get treated as anything other than a flake by the major party establishment and the cable profiteers running these so-called debates.
Williamson's closing remarks, in which she directly addressed Donald Trump, made the establishment's collective head explode: “Mr. President, if you’re listening, you have harnessed fear for political purposes, and only love can cast that out. I am going to harness love for political purposes. And sir, love will win.” Even writers sympathetic to Williamson are not capable of writing about her without characterizing her sentiments as "weird," "bizarre" or "oddball."
But is Williamson's love message REALLY all that weird? If situated only in terms of the wretched norms governing mainstream political discourse in the US, then yes of course her message is weird to the point of sounding like it comes from some mysterious astral plane. Put in a global context however, the message is not weird at all and might actually represent a realistic way of handling Trumpian-style polarizing populism.
Consider the recent mayoral election in Istanbul, Turkey. Reform candidate Ekrem Imamoglu won the election in March, but after allegations of voting irregularities the election was held again in June. In the second election Imamogly won by over 800,000 votes against the candidate supported by Turkey's polarizing populist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan has in the past claimed that whoever runs Istanbul effectively runs Turkey, though it remains to be seen if Imamoglu's victory represents an end to the divide and conquer politics of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party.
Imamoglu's Republican People's Party (CHP) did not run for office the way opposition parties typically do. Instead of angry denunciations of Erdogan, the AKP, and Erdogan's "deplorable" supporters, they took a stand for "Radical Love." In a fascinating 50-page document, the writer argues that "The main difference between radical and normal love is that the former denotes giving your love not only to those who already love you, but also to those who do not."
"Radical Love" goes further and urges political activists to avoid "hubris," "sarcasm," "high politics," and "haste." The writer then provides candidates with a ten-point program for running campaigns, most of which are the opposite of how we run campaigns in the States:
- Don't get provoked, don't be pulled into arguments.
- Don't talk conceptually, be concrete.
- Introduce yourself.
- Talk less, listen more.
- Don't use insults.
- Don't make insinuations.
- Don't lord over people, don't wag a finger.
- Don't have an idea. (By which they mean that candidates should recognize that ideas are rooted in communities, not in the individual mind of the candidate.).
- Don't forget that you're with the People's Party.
Williamson channeled some of these principles in her debate performance, principles so rare in American political discourse that the candidate will almost necessarily sound "weird." (South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg sometimes espouses Radical Love type views, especially when he talks about fixing our broken democracy, but like Williamson he might be hurt by having a style that's too easy for more polished candidates to dismiss and for ill-motivated opponents to lampoon.).
Radical love needs to be strong. United we stand. A nation that stands strong, and loves each of its members is a nightmare for hate-mongers.--From the pamphlet "Radical Love"
The "Radical Love" pamphlet calls hatred the "disease of our times," and says that "hatred cannot be overcome by hatred." It says that hatred is "easy to produce" and is "lucrative," and that "The only way to beat people who feed on hatred is to defend love with patience and perseverance." "Radical Love" is rooted in the idea of treating political opponents with deep respect--something that might seem impossible in the United States until we consider that it was considered to be impossible in Turkey until Imamoglu's successful campaign.
Does the United States need a "Radical Love" style transformation in order for Donald Trump to be defeated in 2020? No. Given our 18th-century electoral rules, the Democrats merely need to find a way to flip some swing states (e.g. Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania) that surprisingly went for Mr. Trump in 2016 but in which his popularity is low and the Republicans did not do well in the 2018 midterms. But even if Trump is defeated, "Radical Love" teaches that unless there is some kind of transformation in the way we do politics, Trump-style scapegoating and demonizing of "others" will continue to play a large role in governing at all levels no matter who wins individual elections.
Marianne Williamson is not going to be elected president of the United States, but she does deserve credit for trying to expose the fact that the man currently occupying the big house on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in DC is more a symptom of our sickness than a cause of it. Williamson's Seinfeldian New Age Guru style makes it easy to laugh off such views, but as Elvis Costello once sang (and the author of the Turkish "Radical Love" pamphlet would echo), "What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?"