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On Night 1 of the Democratic Debate, Marianne Williamson Battles the “Dark Psychic Force”

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A few minutes before 8 p.m. on Tuesday, I received a push notification on my phone from Apple News, teasing the night’s Democratic debate. “Want to see Sanders and Warren go head to head?” it asked. “Or just want to watch Marianne Williamson?” It struck me then that this summed up, pretty succinctly, what had so far been the appeal of Williamson as a candidate: she was eminently watchable. Williamson—a New Age author, who has written thirteen books; Oprah Winfrey’s spiritual adviser; and, as the CNN debate broadcast dubbed her tonight, a “Washington outsider”—announced her 2020 Presidential bid in January. But it was her participation in the first round of Democratic debates, in June, that established her as a fascinating oddity, confounding many but eliciting begrudging admiration from some. Speaking in the throaty tones of a nineties-forties film-noir heroine and wearing a well-cut sea-foam-green suit and an Armani shirt, Williamson not only referred to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, as “girlfriend” but spoke directly to President Trump, invoking the power of love as a worthy foe to his fear-mongering. “I will meet you on that field, and, sir, love will win,” she said. She was the most-Googled candidate of the night, and her performance sparked countless memes, many of which the candidate hastened to share, cannily, on her Instagram account. Despite troubling suggestions—which she has disputed—that she was an anti-vaxxer, and a sense that a Presidential candidate should err on the side of political experience rather than on a years-long engagement with the mystical tome “A Course in Miracles,” Williamson seemed fun, and the Internet loves an eccentric. What might she do next?

During Tuesday’s debate, something seemed a bit different. Perhaps it was the fact that the shock of Williamson’s Laurel Canyon-heiress persona has worn off some, or perhaps it was the fact that some of what she said actually had the substance of not-unradical political statements. Williamson seemed less of a joke, less of a meme, which made her, perhaps, less curious, but also arguably more affecting. Though she started out weakly—suggesting that, though she is usually aligned with Sanders and Warren politically, she is concerned that Medicare for All will make it “harder to win” against the Republicans—as the night wore on, her statements seemed to take on a strange, almost prophetic force. She continued to use the language of self-help—the loathsome word “thrive,” a favorite of twenty-tens corporate-speak, seems also to be a favorite of hers, and she invoked “toxicity,” “emotional turbulence,” and “healing” as some of her bywords—and yet the substance of her answers had the ring of often-goes-unsaid truth. The trouble with the water crisis in Flint, she argued, is not just the problem of Flint per se but the problem of racism and classism in America. Reparations are needed, she suggested, because “two hundred and fifty years of slavery and one hundred years of domestic terrorism” created a great injustice that must be rectified. In the context of the political realities that Williamson was invoking, referring to the President’s legacy as a “dark psychic force” suddenly seemed to make some sense.


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Naomi Fry, BruceDayne