Good cause: Williamson with David Hockney at an Aids charity party. Photograph: Richard Perry/ Sygma via Getty Images
Nine months on from that dialogue, what Williamson has decided to do about Trump is to become president herself. She calls me on the road, living out of a suitcase, she says- not dissimilar to her usual existence, though she’s now sermon the Politics of Love to the as-yet-unconverted. People mock her love-can-beat-Trump message but don’t actually dislike it.
She’s had time to reflect on her performance at the debate and the impact she made.” I can’t really complain about some of the mock. I mean, some of it has been hilarious. Very little of it was malevolent and a lot of it is quite fascinating. Politics is a long-form conversation. It’s a journey. It’s not a one-night debate .”
One of the more memorable moments in Williamson’s stage day came when nominees were asked to name the person they’d call first as chairman. Biden and Harris gazed on in astonishment at Williamson’s reply:” The prime minister of New Zealand, who said her goal is to stimulate New Zealand the best place in the world for a child to grow up. And I would tell her:’ Girlfriend, you are so on .'” Williamson became the most Googled candidate on the second night of the 2020 Democratic debates.” Some people guess I’m absolutely bonkers ,” she laughs.
Like her foes on the far right, Williamson calls for a” new kind of politics”, but she’s been accused by some on the left of being a Republican-funded plant.” What I would say is, true, there are a lot of Republican who love what I’m saying ,” she says.” There are many people who voted for Trump who say they would vote for me. I think if anything, that would construct me most attractive to Democratic voters as a nominee .”
It’s a delightful image- angry Trump voters casting off the president’s hate-filled message to embrace Williamson’s mantras of peace, love and mindfulness. But it’s the left-wing establishment she wants to disrupt just as thoroughly.” The Democratic party is seen as too cool. Too cool to use words like’ patriotism’ and’ morality ‘. I think that’s been very damaging to us politically .”
The biggest test to her campaign came when she described mandatory vaccination policies as “draconian” and “Orwellian”. There was an outcry- George Orwell died of TB. Although she later apologised, her claim that she” supports vaccinations” came with the caveat” “whether theyre” called for “. It’s unclear what her policy would be.” I’m not anti-vaccine ,” she tells me quite angrily, after an article in the Daily Beast calls her” a dangerous wacko “.” I am pro-science. I have never told anyone to pray away their cancer […] I regret, however, calling it draconian or Orwellian. The government must always come down on the side of public safety .”
What about when she said,” The Aids virus is not more powerful than God “?” I would hope ,” she says,” that if you’re writing an article you might have read my books. Integrative medication means body, mind and spirit .” In today’s world, she says, the three are no longer considered separate even by the mainstream.” An oncologist is likely to be the first person to tell someone to go to one of those spiritual support groups. It’s not a fringe activity. If person does a meditation or a prayer with person regarding the boosting of their immune system, it is in no way to denigrate or to argue against or to criticise medicine. That is absurd. I’ve never said anything like that. I’ve never written anything like that and my entire career proves otherwise .”
She says narcotic companies pathologise unhappiness, a claim that some have furiously interpreted as:” Depression is all in your head ,” and is suggested that antidepressants are an exploitative, money-making scheme. Then Williamson ran further.” How many public personalities on antidepressants have to hang themselves before the FDA does something ?” she Tweeted last June, when the designer Kate Spade killed herself.” Big Pharma policemen[ sticks] to what it knows, and the average person stops falling for this? The tragedies keep compounding. The awake is the beginning .”
Depression, stress and unhappiness are big themes in her work, as one would expect, and there are plenty who have read her books who say she’s changed, if not saved, their lives. But does she really think people who have been prescribed antidepressants should come off them? Isn’t that dangerous?” Over the past few years ,” she says,” the psychopharmacological and pharmaceutical industries have medicalised depression. Now, I’m not saying there is no such thing as mental illness, but I am saying there is a spectrum of normal human hopelessnes “thats really not” mental illness. When someone you love dies, when you go bankrupt, lose something professionally, go through a divorce … that’s very painful but it’s not a mental illness, and can be better addressed through spiritual rather than pharmaceutical entails .”
A day or two after the Democrat debate, Williamson was trending again, this time because she had been left out of a Vogue publication shoot by Annie Leibovitz dedicated to “all” the women running for chairperson. Williamson responded by retweeting the picture with her face Photoshopped into it and a Facebook post:” The framers of the constitution did not stimulate Vogue magazine the gatekeeper of America’s political progress .” The Vogue editor responsible was hauled up on morning talk shows to defend the magazine’s decision on the basis that Williamson, unlike her five female competitors, is not a member of Congress.
Williamson’s CV has nothing patently presidential to recommend it. The daughter of a naturalised Russian immigration lawyer and a homemaker mom, she grew up in Houston, the youngest of three children, and was a teen protester against the Vietnam war, with a rebellious streak and aspirations to be an actor.
In her 20 s she found herself living an aimless party life in New York when a gift from her then boyfriend changed her life and career. It was a book by the psychologist Helen Schucman, a self-study spiritual curriculum called A Course in Miracles , the greatest ” miracle” of all being full” awareness of love’s presence “. Williamson saw it inspiring and moved to Los Angeles, where she worked at the Philosophical Research Society library. Here, she was invited by its president to lecture about what she’d learned studying Schucman.
Williamson began to build on Schucman’s ideas. Her quasi-religious talks and volumes began to attract Hollywood’s attention. Shirley MacLaine, Cher and Bette Midler absorbed her lessons on forgiving your mothers, saving the world and why demise does not exist. David Geffen, then the richest film mogul in the world, became a key advocate. When her run gained traction in the 1980 s among homosexual humen with Aids, Geffen donated $500,000 to help set up Project Angel Food, a free meal service for men and women too unwell to shop and cook for themselves. David Hockney, Diane von Furstenberg and Kim Basinger joined the honorary advisory board of a subsequent charity. The last period she was as talked about as she is now was probably in 1991, when, at 38, she was profiled in Vanity Fair as” guru of the moment “.
She has written 12 books, four of them bestsellers. The last one, Tears to Triumph , sold 3m copies when it was published in 2016. The names of her books coupled with the calibre of celebrities( including members of the Kardashian clan) who supported her failed 2014 congressional bid in California resulted even the Democrat incumbent, Henry Waxman, to reject her as too woo for a more serious career in Washington. That failure weighed heavily on her, though she sees the criticism of her as gendered.” I’m barely the first female whose career and contribution is considered differently because of my sexuality ,” she says, and it’s true that the respected philosopher John Gray, who endorsed her candidacy, for example, never get called a “self-help guru”.
So what are her policies? There follows a long shopping list of Democrat ideals, starting with a” massive infusion of hope and economic opportunity into the sinews of American civilisation “. She would” repeal the 2017 taxation cut which gave 83 cents in every$ 1 to the richest individuals and firms. I’d stop the corporate subsidies, such as the $20 bn that went to the fossil fuel companies in one year alone. I want to see a $15 -an-hour minimum wage. I want to see Medicare for all .” She wants to reverse climate change and give citizenship to America’s 11 m undocumented immigrants.
As a speaker she has millions of adoring adherents, but the majority are women. Does she think her message can appeal to men?” There’s a saying in publishing ,” she says: “‘ the wives buy the books and their spouses read them .'” In politics, she adds:” Angela Merkel is liked by humen in Germany, so my sense is that there are many instances where the fact that the leader is a woman has not made a misogynist backlash even though I think misogyny was definitely involved in the defeat of Hillary Clinton. And so when President Trump said,’ Make America Great Again’- there are so many dog whistles in that statement. What is the great American that he’s talking about, precisely? It implied to a lot of people an America where the men operated the show and the women stood there and appeared pretty .”
She says that Trump’s recent” Go back” Tweets are” out of every fascist’s playbook “. How does love deal with an auditorium full of Trump voters chanting” Go back “? Williamson constructed a career on helping others work through their personal crises, but can she convince the nation to apply her abilities to an entire demographic? Come 2020, will we be watching her leading America in a broadcasted group mindfulness meditation? Laugh all you want, then recollect who’s president.