Marianne Williamson: America doesn’t just have a gun crisis.
It has a culture crisis.
The Washington Post
Marianne Williamson is a Democratic candidate for president.
Another day, another mass shooting. We grieve for Odessa, Tex., and we grieve for America.
The aftermath of every mass shooting follows a now-routine pattern: Feverish coverage will be followed by politicians and pundits engaging in a predictable conversation about gun-safety legislation. All of which we know by now. Of course, we need universal background checks; we need to close all loopholes; we need to outlaw bump stocks; and we need to outlaw assault weapons and the bullets needed to shoot them. But politicians trotting out various forms of I-will-do-this-or-that neither gets to the heart of the matter nor breaks the logjam that has made this horrific and uniquely American problem so intractable.
It is not just our gun policy but our politics that fails to free us of this insanity. Until we override the nefarious influence of money on our politics, it will not be possible to break the National Rifle Association’s chokehold on our society. It is not the will nor safety of the people but the profits of gun manufacturers that is given primacy in our gun policies. Legislation that establishes public funding for federal campaigns should be the battle cry of our generation.
But even then, Americans will have to look deeper for the causal layers of our epidemic of violence. We will have to look beyond politics. We will have to look at ourselves.
As individuals, Americans are not a violent people, but it is undeniable that we’re a violent culture. Regular mass shootings are not societally normal. And until we face this, the situation will not fundamentally improve.
Most politicians stick to a discussion of symptoms only. Politics should be the conduit for our most expanded conversation about societal issues, not the most superficial one. Conventional politics does not lend itself to a discussion of the deeper issues that plague us. Yet go deeper we must.
America does not just have a gun crisis; it has a cultural crisis. America will not stop experiencing the effects of gun violence until we’re ready to face the many ways that our culture is riddled with violence.
Our environmental policies are violent toward the Earth. Our criminal justice system is violent toward people of color. Our economic system is violent toward the poor. Our entertainment media is violent toward women. Our video games are violent in their effect on the minds of children. Our military is violent in ways and places where it doesn’t have to be.
Our media is violent in its knee-jerk shaming and blaming for the sake of a better click rate.
Our hearts are violent as we abandon each other constantly, breeding desperation and insanity. And our government is indirectly and directly violent in the countless ways it uses its power to help those who do not need help and to withhold support from those who do.
The darker truth that Americans must face now is this: Our society is not just steeped in violence; we are hooked on violence. And in area after area, there are those who make billions of dollars on deepening the hook. Until we see that, we will just have more violence. Our minds must awaken so we can see all this. Our hearts must awaken so we can change all this. And our politics must change so we can discuss all this.
Though gun-safety legislation should be fervently pursued, a political establishment so steeped in the ways of brute force is hardly equipped to be the purveyor of a solution to the problem of violence in this country. With a nearly $740 billion military budget but only $40 billion proposed for the State Department budget, our outsize commitment to brute force and ever-withering commitment to soul force is obvious. With the Air Force seeking 100 stealth B-21 Raiders, each with a price tag of $550 million and each equipped to carry both nuclear and conventional weapons, while 12.5 million children in the United States live in food-insecure homes — the idea of politicians who allow this to happen being the ones who are going to save us from the epidemic of violence in America is almost laughable.
We will not break free of dysfunctional realities until we are willing to embrace more functional ones. I propose a U.S. Department of Peace to coordinate and harness the powers of conflict resolution; restorative justice; violence prevention; trauma-informed education; mindfulness in the schools; child and family wrap-around services; social and emotional learning; and a world-class peace academy to train and to deploy thousands of peace-builders, plus national conferences and a presidential task force for peace creation. We will make every effort to promote a culture of peace both at home and abroad. We will address the root causes, not just the symptoms of violence in America. And in time, we will transform our culture from one of conflict to one of peace.
Nothing is going to fundamentally change until enough of us are willing to take a stand for fundamental change. And no change could be more fundamental than for the United States to transform from a culture of violence to a culture of peace. From the frequency of attack to the frequency of forgiveness. From a land of fear to a land of love.
“By then, she was beginning to wonder if this system was broken — if, in fact, a presidential campaign was designed to keep outsiders out, which is the opposite of democracy. “People would say, ‘You’re out of your depth,’ ” she said. “I feel I’m in my depth. A deeper conversation is in the depth. I’m the only one who mentioned American foreign policy in Latin America. I’m the only one who mentioned that our health care system is basically a sickness care system. I’m the only one who mentioned what Donald Trump is actually doing, collectivizing fear, and what it will take to override that. So was I out of my depth? Or is the conversation that was being promoted there not chronically superficial? And any conversation which is in fact of depth is made to appear silly?”
The Gospel According to Marianne Williamson
Do spirituality and self-help have a political constituency?
he first problem with Marianne Williamson is what do you call her. The other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination lead with their impressive elected titles: “Governor,” “Senator,” “Mayor.” She’s a lot of fancy things herself: a faith leader, a spiritual guide on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” a New Age guru. But she knows that when people use terms like that outside the nearly $10 billion self-help industry, where a person like her is sought, they mean it to dismiss her. So while everyone else has dignified titles of experience to stick onto their lapels and on chyrons for the debates (all except Andrew Yang, who is a “former tech executive,” but it doesn’t really matter what he’s called because he’s running on a platform of giving each American $1,000 per month for life), she settled on, simply, “author.” Author is accurate, if not the whole story.
Williamson is also a politician now, and on the weekend after Independence Day, she was doing what politicians do, which is visit citizens gathered at people’s homes (and on peach farms and at ice-cream socials) and make a case to the American people, one group of interested voters at a time. There she stood, tiny and regal, on the breathtaking porch of someone else’s breathtaking home in New Castle, N.H., right on the river, giving a civics lesson not about her specific policies; those were all on her website, under the label “The Issues Aren’t Always the Issue.” She was talking about how she could beat Donald Trump.
She told the crowd the story of David and Goliath, about how she’s going to be like David and defeat Trump with just a slingshot. “We’re going to get him right between the eyes,” she said. “David got Goliath in his third eye, where he wasn’t prepared — where he had no defense.” The third eye, she explained, was Trump’s ego and his inability to see clearly. It was his instinct to divide the country along the old fault lines of hatred and greed and apathy toward suffering. The slingshot, which was small but mighty, was, of course, love. Love was her entire platform. She believed that if we were to look at all the country’s problems through the prism of love, we could undo everything from poverty to climate change to the immigration crisis.
Everyone talked about the issues. She wanted to talk about how we could have prevented these issues — how we could undo them if we got to the root of all these problems. “People who are so depressed because they don’t know how they’re going to ever get out of this college loan. People who were so depressed because they don’t know what’s going to happen if they get sick. People who are so depressed because they don’t know how they’re going to send their kids to college. People who are so depressed because they’re so afraid that their child is going to get picked up by the policemen and there’s absolutely nothing they can do no matter how much they try to raise a good kid and even have a good kid. People working with refugees, people working with immigrants, veterans, traumatized children, drug addicts. Everything I just mentioned has the fingerprints of public policy — irresponsible, reckless public policy.”
She has a patrician, mid-Atlantic accent that she has taped over her Texan accent — she was raised in Houston. She talks so fast, like a movie star from the ’40s, no hesitations, as if the thoughts came to her fully formed with built-in metaphors, or sometimes just as straight-up metaphors in which the actual is never fully explained. (“Am I pushing the river? Am I going with the flow? Am I trying to make something happen, or am I in some way being pushed from behind?”) She is prone to exasperated explosions of unassailable logic (“The best car mechanic doesn’t necessarily know the road to Milwaukee!”). A thing she loves to say is: “I’m not saying anything you don’t already know.” This is the self-help magic ne plus ultra, a spoken thing that rings inside your blood like the truth, a thing you knew all along, like ruby slippers you were wearing the whole time.
She finished her speech in New Hampshire to great applause and asked for questions, but nobody wanted to know how “a politics of love,” as she called it, would handle, say, President Vladimir Putin’s annexing Crimea, or how it would prevent a mass shooting, which were things she had thought about deeply and had specific and elaborate plans for. They didn’t want to know about her Department of Children and Youth or her Department of Peace. No, they wanted self-help. A woman raised her hand and said she didn’t know what to do about her trauma and her rage these days — how she couldn’t find forgiveness for the people who voted for Trump, even though those people weren’t exactly asking for it. “It’s like I’ve been infected,” the woman said. “How do I manage that?”
Williamson told her she has no time for people traumatized by the election. She asked the crowd to consider the trauma of the suffragists, who were force-fed through tubes when they were put into jails. She asked them to consider the trauma of the black protesters who took their lives in their hands when they marched in Selma. And she has even less time for people who think that anger is a productive emotion. Anger, she has said, is the white sugar of activism. It’s a good rush, but it doesn’t provide nourishment.
“Your personal anger depletes you,” she told the woman, her X-Acto-knife jaw jutted outward and her head high. “Trump isn’t the problem. The system of complacency is the problem.” The problem was apathy toward the entire revolutionary nature of this country — the radicalism of the Constitution, the power that it gave every single American. “Don’t hate Trump,” she beseeched the woman. “Love democracy.”
Self-help made Marianne Williamson, who is 67, famous. It was the number of selves she had helped in her 38-year career, and after selling over three million books, that made her feel she was qualified to take on the world’s problems. Rather than solving suffering one theater full of self-selecting audience members at a time, she could focus on alleviating suffering on a much larger scale. She was not concerned by the scoffings about her inexperience. Every time I heard her speak, she said: “I challenge the idea that only people whose careers have been entrenched for decades in the limitations of the mind-set that drove us into this ditch are the only ones we should consider qualified to take us out of the ditch.”