Just hours after the two second-round Democratic presidential-primary debates, I was sitting at a policy roundtable in Washington, D.C. It was the kind of conference-room event where you hear acronyms most of America has never heard of that are the bread and water of the workdays of the people around the table. If you were mischievous, you might set a drinking game to the word “supplemental” or the mention of a particular law or regulation. And yet, about three hours in, one of the self-described data-driven wonks at the table announced that her policy prescription was “love.”
And that moment confirmed for me something I had been thinking during the first and second rounds of Democratic debates: Marianne Williamson could win the Democratic nomination.
Back in the D.C. policy room, that one insistence on love as the answer seemed to open something up. Soon one of the most informative and frustrated participants there admitted the bad-news fatigue that Americans feel. She had the self-awareness to know that even though the issues she spends her days on are urgent, even she would be too tired to be inundated with the details if they didn’t already consume her day. People would be overwhelmed if they even began to learn what she knows. She was looking for something other than another law or regulation, too.
The conversation went back to policy minutiae and how to communicate them, given how overwhelmed people are. And I couldn’t shake a feeling that took me back to the last presidential primary and election. I’d be sitting in an Uber talking to a Muslim. I’d be in a restaurant talking to an immigrant from Mexico. I’d be having a conversation with a National Review reader or someone in a Catholic or other Christian-church-related context. The conversation would always be the same. Each would tell me: “I’m voting for Donald Trump because he isn’t a politician.” Sometimes the faith-based reply would add “because he says he’s pro-life and he isn’t Hillary.” But the “he isn’t a politician” rated high — I heard it most often. They would also tell me that Trump “says it like it is” and doesn’t owe the usual party patrons.
Marianne Williamson sure isn’t serving up the usual soundbites. She was laughed at on social media for talking about the “dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred,” but the former president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks, who is now a professor at Harvard, basically just wrote a book on something like that: the nearly ubiquitous contempt that motivates and feeds so much of our politics. Williamson says that we need healing, and she’s right. When it comes to politics, we all need a little bit of a time-out.
We probably all need the civics lesson that Nebraska senator Ben Sasse would be all too willing to provide — as his social-media presence and floor speeches have often made clear — to remember what we have been about and maybe want to aspire to again. We probably need to appreciate again what we have to be grateful for, what we ought to be good stewards of, and re-acclimate ourselves to history and reintroduce ourselves to one another with a little humility.
As the week of the second round of debates was winding down, I woke up to Ephesians 4:29-32:
Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them. . . . Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander, and malice of every kind.
It wasn’t a random opening of a Bible, but part of the prescribed Morning Prayer of the day in the Divine Office prayers that priests and consecrated men and women in the Catholic Church pray throughout the day. Imagine that being applied to our politics — or our every thought, word, deed, and social-media activity!
The night of the “dark physic forces” remark, we were moving into the feast day of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. He was a master of identifying good and evil and being diligent in rejecting all darkness immediately. Live in the light. Isn’t that what the often-expressed desire for authenticity in politicians is all about? But what about each one of us? If we all got with the self-discipline of living the good life — and better — leading with love and peace in our daily lives, we might no longer look to politics the way we do now. If we’re watching out for one another in the everyday with the kind of generosity that is the stuff of the Beatitudes, our lives would not be as consumed by politics as they are now. We’d be too busy, and hearts would be healed in a way that politics can never provide.
Like Trump, Williamson is not the problem or the savior, but she shows us something about our poisonous culture (even if she misses some big problems, like the way we treat some of our most vulnerable — a Marianne Williamson opposed to abortion would be a fascinating campaign). The antidote is not in a political ticket, but the way we live our lives.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.