By Nancy Derringer and Violet Ikonomova
She greets you with a hug, which you’d expect, her being a new-age cult leader who daily communes with the astral plane, perhaps traveling to and fro on a magic carpet woven of moonbeams.
Then she starts talking. And the moonbeams vanish, leaving you plunging to earth to meet the hard reality of your preconceived notions. Because Marianne Williamson is no stereotypical goofball. She doesn’t read your palm or your aura. And while there are citations galore of her suggesting that “angels” might repair the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or that illness is a mind-over-matter thing, her in-person affect is one of seriousness, intelligence, hard-won feminism and a sense of humor that stops short of considering her own candidacy for president one big joke.
Richard Nixon told Americans, “I am not a crook.” Williamson says, “I am not a kook.”
Basically, you walk in expecting Woo. And you walk out wooed.
Deadline Detroit sat down with Williamson for 45 minutes Thursday, in her penthouse-level suite at the Motor City Casino Hotel. The conversation revealed that although she preaches love and may avoid arguments over policy – she has concrete, actionable plans similar to those of any of the more progressive front runners.
She would end corporate subsidies, repeal the 2017 tax cut for corporations and the wealthy and supports leftist ideas like a universal basic income, the Green New Deal for its job-creating opportunities, and free public college. She would also cut military spending by up to $300 billion — as much as studies show could be trimmed while continuing to meet the country’s current security needs, and create a Department of Peace — claiming that every dollar spent “peace building” can save $16 on the military.
Williamson met us with one press aide, who said little. At 67, she is a slight, petite woman, her face betraying only a few more lines than you saw on TV, but she looks great, and not just great-for-her-age. She sounds a little hoarse. She’s polite. She sits with her back to the wide, river-view windows.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity and brevity.
DD: 2016 kind of taught us that anybody can become president of the United States. You don't have any policy experience, you've never held public office. You dismissed the debate over policies as superficial and you have this sort of "love-conquers-all" mantra. Your title is “author,” but you’ve been called versions of, essentially, a new age wack job. I think I've heard you called Cher's spiritual advisor. What do you think you are bringing to this race that 19 others don't?
MW: Well, the majority of what you just said was untrue. Beginning with Cher's spiritual advisor.
You're not Oprah's spiritual advisor, either?
Oprah has supported my books. I would hope that you as responsible journalists would know that laziness in journalism has become the mark of your profession. And particularly for women, this laziness is almost a weapon. There is an ancient strain of misogyny through which any woman who doesn't toe the line of the status quo is deemed invisible at first and then, if she refuses to go away, crazy.
Now, as far as my qualifications, the U.S. Constitution says that in order to be president, a person has to be born here, 35 years and older and has to have lived here for 14 years.They didn't make the qualification any more limited than that because they were leaving it to every generation to decide for itself the skill set that that generation feels is most necessary in order to navigate the times in which we live.
There is a political class in this country that has taken it upon themselves to proffer themselves as the only solution to the problems that they created and there is almost a Wizard of Oz quality that something is going on behind that curtain that the rest of us don't understand. But it's time for us to wake up, to awaken and to own what we do understand.
I have great respect for political expertise. Anyone who looks at my website, and this has been true since the beginning, will see that I am as policy-driven in my plans for what needs to change in this country as is any other candidate. But experienced politicians — this whole idea of experienced politicians as the only qualification for the presidency, I believe needs to be challenged. Lyndon Johnson was one of our most experienced politicians. He led us into Vietnam. Dick Cheney was one of our most experienced politicians and he led the Iraq war. And many of those so-called experienced politicians voted for that ridiculous, absurd, recklessly irresponsible war. What we need in Washington is some wisdom, some moral certitude and some dedication to democratic and humanitarian ideals above and beyond all else.
But we've seen with President Trump what happens when somebody really doesn't have any political experience whatsoever. He thinks he can run the country like a CEO, that he can just order things to be done and they should be done.
The problem with the president is not that he lacks experience. The problem with the president is that he lacks ethics. The problem with the president is that he lacks any visceral taste for democracy apparently. He lacks any respect for American law and tradition. The worst things that this president has done have not been a product of his lack of experience. They have been a product of his lack of conscience and moral center.
You’ve said “harnessing love” for political purposes is the antidote to Trump. What does that look like in practice?
I want to talk about how my candidacy is the antidote to Trump and how love is the antidote to the politics of fear. The politics of fear is the politics of racism, the politics of bigotry, the politics of antisemitism, the politics of xenophobia, the politics of Islamophobia, the politics of misogyny.
It's pretty obvious what the politics of fear is. It is a politics which harnesses people's negative emotions and negative emotions underlie our actions. Hatred underlies terrorism. Hatred underlies white supremacy. Hatred underlies Nazism. When it comes to negative emotions, no one seems to have a problem making the logical connection.
The idea that only light casts out darkness should not be so difficult to understand. All these people who are quick to put up Martin Luther King Jr. memes every time there's a disaster, saying that only love casts out hatred, should reconsider laughing at someone like myself when we suggest we apply that in our time as King applied it in his.
Two of the most profoundly successful political movements of the 20th century were the Gandhi-led Indian independence movement and the Martin Luther King-led civil rights movement in the United States, both of which were posited on the use of love as a broad-scale social and political force. Once again, back to the misogyny: They say it, it's one thing — I say it, it's "woo-woo" and every woman particularly should not only see this, but call it out.
So if bigotry, fear, racism, etc., form political force when collectivized, so do dignity, love, decency, concern — not only for our children, but for other people's children. Where did we get this notion that brute force is a serious topic, but soul force is silly and particularly, where do women get off even thinking of parroting this? This is a way to minimize and to suppress the knowledge in every woman's heart.
But what does that look like in practice?
Something that I just referred to was love for our children and that love for our children is actually not enough. The love that will save the world is love for other people's children as well. Love for children on the other side of town.
When I visited the Homestead (Fla.) detention center, one of the things that impacted me was not only what I knew was happening inside, but the fact that outside there are people who go there every single day in the Miami heat to bear witness to the agony of those inside, standing up on a ladder holding big cardboard hearts just to make sure that any of the kids who looked over the fence would see that. It is because so many of us have refused to shut up about the intentional child abuse that these detention centers represent. That the political forces perpetrating that policy are at the very least, having a difficult time.
When I talk in my campaign about a U.S. Department of Children and Youth, when I talk about the fact that millions of children in this country are chronically traumatized, go to school in classrooms where there aren't even adequate school supplies with which to teach a child to read. And if a child cannot learn to read by the age of eight, the chances of high school graduation are drastically decreased and the chances of incarceration are drastically increased. We have 13 to 15 million food-insecure children. What does love do?
Notice that I am the only candidate in this race talking about these children. The political establishment has simply normalized their despair. Now notice also that for the most part, those are not my children. As I pointed out the other night, my daughter lived in Grosse Pointe. That's what love politicized means. It means I might live in Grosse Pointe, but I'm not going to ignore what's happening in Flint. It means I might be fine, but I'm not going to ignore that the United States, for the sake of a $350 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia, is giving aerial support to a war in Yemen that has starved tens of thousands of people, including children. Those are political positions.
So how do you effect that shift in consciousness as a political leader?
Once again, (the plans) are all over my website. I want to form a department of Children and Youth because the problems of the chronically traumatized child in the United States goes beyond just education. We have children who are chronically traumatized before they even go to preschool. We have a relatively high level of infant mortality. We need community wraparound services, we have the need of trauma-informed education, restorative justice, conflict resolution, mindfulness in the schools.
How you effect all this as a president? The president appoints the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA head now is an ex-chemical company lobbyist, the one before him was an ex-oil company lobbyist. The head of the EPA should be a world-class environmental scientist.
By the way, the fact that Donald Trump appointed (these people) to the EPA is not because of his lack of experience. It is because he's a corporate puppet to the core.
Yesterday Vox.com published a piece warning that giving you any sort of respectful coverage gives oxygen to ideas that don't deserve any — like your anti-mandatory vaccine positions. How do you respond to that?
Well, my first response has to do with what I mentioned a couple of minutes ago that a woman who does not toe the corporate line is not only to be ignored — she is dangerous. This goes back to witch burnings.
I was vaccinated. My child was vaccinated. I am pro vaccines. I understand that vaccines save lives. I have a deep concern about the practices of predatory pharma. Attorneys general all over this country, are now indicting big pharmaceutical company executives for their role in the opioid crisis. We now know that they knowingly marketed, manufactured and overprescribed deadly addictive painkillers. Why would an intelligent person assume that in every other area they are paragons of pure intent? Every American needs to ask ourselves how did they get away with that? Where were, what you and I were brought up to assume was proper regulatory oversight on the part of the U.S. government. That would be the Food and Drug Administration. However, we're living at a time when 75 percent of drug review is paid for by big pharma.
There are two full-time pharmaceutical lobbyists for every member of Congress. And the American people might want to check out the political candidates who have received donations from big pharma. Before the 1980s, pharmaceutical companies could not advertise on television. They now not only advertise on television, but the television that they advertise on includes news organizations.
So in 1986 a law was passed, which was called the (National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act). Now remember, our government legislated against the American people by actually prohibiting our own government from negotiating for drug prices with big pharma. So when big pharma gives these donations they expect a quid pro quo.
Now, what those who wish to suppress this conversation will tell you is that that is just anti-vax rhetoric, which is the way they shut down the conversation. There has never been a time when it is more important for journalists to do your own research. This is what happened with the Iraq war. Journalists didn't ask questions.
I am not an anti-vaxer. I see vaccines save people's lives all over this country.
This is not even a topic about which I have a lot of passion, but I do have a lot of passion about free thought and free debate in the United States.
Pharma, journalism — the problems within these industries can be traced back to capitalism. You’ve called our economic system "sociopathic."
My conversation, it's very nuanced and responsible and when certain sentences or phrases are taken out of context, it makes it very easy for someone to paint me as less than nuanced and less than responsible, which is why politicians say so little. This is why they are so cardboard.
So let me say: Over the last few decades, money has come to play such a nefarious role in our political system, particularly since Citizens United, that the dominance and influence of corporate money on our system has eroded our democracy. It now places a short-term economic profit before advocacy for the American people, the people of the world and the planet on which we live. It has turned the government itself into little more than a system of legalized bribery.
Every Democratic candidate in their way is pointing out the underlying cancer of undue money in our politics. It is why there are so many issues — gun safety is a particular example — where the policies of the government are so out of line with poll after poll demonstrates to be the views of the American people. And this is true in issue after issue.
An individual who has no conscience, who has no remorse, who has no empathy, is called a sociopath. Before the 1980s, the American corporation was expected to care. If somebody had worked there for decades, the corporation was expected to care that they have a, dignified retirement. In the 1980s trickle-down economic theory was introduced with a bang — funded by billions of dollars, think tanks, propaganda candidates, etc. The notion was that all the U.S. corporation should care about is fiduciary responsibility to its own stockholders.
That the fiduciary responsibility to the stockholders was to be at the expense, if necessary, of the worker, the community, the environment, etc. And the idea was that this would be good because what this would do is it would increase stockholder value, so they would get rich, but they would be the job creators and all of this money would trickle down. Well, I think after 40 years we can say the jury is in: This, money has not — they said that it would lift all boats — not only has it not lifted all boats, it has left millions of people without even a life vest.
We have 40 percent of Americans living with chronic economic anxiety, people are so emotionally and psychologically debilitated. Remember when we use a term like wealth inequality behind that phrase is a real human experience, and so much of our societal dysfunction arises from that.
That is what I mean by a sociopathic economic system. It is now an economic system that shows no remorse.
Back to the horse race here, who do you think did well over the last two nights? Which candidates would you like to see stay in the race, and if it can't be you, who's your second choice for the Democratic nominee?
That decision belongs in the hands of the voter. I'm a left-wing progressive Democrat. You do the math.
What would you say to people on the left who fear you may be a spoiler that could keep Bernie Sanders or Liz Warren from getting the nomination and advancing a progressive agenda? At the end of the day, you're not one of the front runners.
We're not at the end of the day … It’s August. This decision should be made by the people of the United States. It's called democracy.
You are the only Democratic candidate who has a very strong connection to Detroit. You had this church in Warren and you lived for a while in Grosse Pointe. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like for somebody like you to live there.
You know, my daughter is in the next room. And to me it's all summed up with the sentence: “Mommy, I had a happy childhood in Detroit.”
I had a difficult time in some ways, but I made long-lasting, even lifelong friendships here. I have a very soft spot in my heart for the city and it's extraordinary to see what's happened.
What was difficult? (Grosse Pointe is) a pretty WASPy community and you don't seem very WASPy.
You said it, I didn't.