Right now, Democratic Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson is being written off as a joke. However, having predicted the win of Trump in 2015, I see many of the same persuasion abilities in her that I saw in him, albeit from a radically different perspective.
Marianne Williamson’s description during the DNC debate was merely “author.” The medium income for a novelist is around $10,000 a year – below minimum wage. For an author to amass enough support and money to make it to the Presidential stage, they need massive persuasion power.
While many watching the debate saw Williamson’s appearance seemed “random,” she was not there by accident. Marianne Williamson is a skilled persuader who has the possibility to be a real contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
Let’s look at the evidence.
How Marianne Williamson Is Like Trump
Marianne Williamson mirrors the Trump phenomenon in many ways.
- Authenticity. Trump won on authenticity. His truthful offensiveness was seen as preferable to fake “niceness” by many Republican voters. Likewise, Marianne Williamson is authentic. No one doubts she isn’t speaking her truth when she talks about defeating Donald Trump by “harnessing the power of love.” If offending truth beats fake niceness, then strange truth might defeat fake professionalism.
- Mobilizing new movements. Both Trump and Marianne Williamson are speaking for a group dismissed by mainstream powerholders that is secretly huge. Trump got many white working class people to vote for the first time, who had been dismissed by the mainstream establishment as worthless and “racist.” Likewise, Marianne Williamson speaks for a New Age movement dismissed by the mainstream left as “kooky” and “anti-science.”
- Speaking memetically. Trumps way of speaking naturally lead to memes. “Build the wall.” “Lock her up.” Williamson in just four minutes of speaking time, generated multiple memes like “harness the power of love” or the New Zealand meme. You can mock these memes, but can you even remember what the other candidates answered to the last question? People are still talking about her New Zealand comment.
- Huge following. Trump was already a household name, reality TV star, and had a huge social media following when he ran. Marianne Williamson is one of the biggest names in the New Age movement, and only five other Democratic presidential candidates have a bigger Twitter following than her.
- Dismissed by mainstream. When Trump first ran, he was dismissed as a clown. The Huffington Post said they were going to print news of his campaign in the entertainment section, because he wasn’t a real contender. Marianne Williamson is seen the same way, and was not even included in the group photo of DNC female Presidential candidates.
- Free press. Trump generated millions of dollars of free publicity by saying things that were too shocking not to cover. Although Marianne Williamson has not gotten nearly the press he has, when she is mocked, her message spreads. Likewise, there are already people making memes online based on her words.
While this list may be convincing, I can already hear some of you objecting – “but Marianne Williamson is just too weird!” Which brings me to my last comparison:
- Entertainment. When Trump began, many followed him just to see what crazy thing he’d say next. Likewise, many are watching Marianne Williamson for the same reason. Over time, both will seem less crazy to those who later support them.
Now let’s look at what many think is her biggest weakness, but is secretly her greatest strenght – Marianne Williamson’s New Age spiritual beliefs.
New Age Is Bigger Than You Think
Old media news sources have dismissed Marianne Williamson’s beliefs as weird. Pundits who don’t like her refer to her as the “crystal lady” who “probably sells essential oils on Facebook.” Of course, the same pundits dismissed Trump as “cheeto Hitler” and “orange nazi.”
In reality, Marianne Williamson is not representing a fringe movement. The New Age movement is one of the largest spiritual movements in America, and no one has ever mobilized it for political purposes.
To put this in comparison – pretend no one had ever politically appealed to evangelical Christians before, and for the first time ever a real Bible-believing Christian was running for President. Would you think that candidate was a contender?
“But New Age is not that big!” No. It’s huge. Let’s look at the data.
- 62% of Americans hold New Age beliefs.
- 61% of Christians hold New Age beliefs.
- 29% of Christians believe in reincarnation. (Yes, Christians.)
- 54% of Americans believe in aliens. That number increases in men (64%).
- 42% of Americans believe in ghosts, but…
- 61% believe other people have “experienced ghosts.”
- 20% more Democrats than Republicans believe people have encountered ghosts.
- 28% of Americans say they have been in the presence of a ghost.
- The biggest group that believes in ghosts? Female Democrats.
By comparison – 74% of American’s believe in God.
How many politicians inauthentically say “God bless America,” when they have no personal faith, to appeal to the 74% that believes in God? Why not talk about New Age beliefs to appeal to the 62% of the public that believes in New Age spirituality?
Every town has a New Age bookstore. This stuff sells. The only comparable spiritual force in terms of money and reach is Christianity, and according to data, belief in God is decreasing, while belief in aliens, ghosts, and reincarnation is up.
At one point, evangelical Christians were a political force. The New Age movement is the growing religious force in America, and Marianne Williamson is the first candidate to ever appeal to it politically.
Marianne Williamson Could Get Weirder
I know some of you are still objecting – “but New Age spirituality is weird!” Compared to what? Evangelical Christianity? Islam? Mormonism?
We’ve had a Mormon Presidential candidate nominated to the Republican party – Mitt Romney. Tulsi Gabbard was raised in a cult. Trump himself grew up in the church of Norman Vincent Peale, author of Power of Positive Thinking. Yes, that’s right – Trump himself was raised on a brand of New Age spirituality.
Look, religion is weird. Trump is weird. America is weird. Statistically speaking, if you don’t believe in ghosts, aliens, or God, you’re in the minority, so you’re the weird one. You can scream “anti-science” all you want, but Ancient Aliens is on it’s 14th season, and Firefly got canceled after one. Shut up, nerd.
In fact, if I was advising Marianne Williamson, I’d tell her to get even stranger, and add UFO disclosure to her issues page. I’m 100% serious.
UFO disclosure – the idea the United States government should reveal any secret knowledge it has of extraterrestrial aliens or contact it has had with them – would generate massive free press. There would be memes. She would become the UFO candidate. People would photoshop images of her with little green men.
However, imagine if she presented it calmly: “The government should not keep secrets from its citizens. We have a right to know. I don’t know if our government has ever made contact, or even if aliens exist, but I believe the American people are strong enough to handle the truth, whatever it is. As President, I promise to disclosure any state secrets I learn about extraterrestrial life that do not threaten national security.”
At first it sounds like a troll, but then you dig deeper and it seems reasonable. Now all the attention and press is on her.
What A Less Memetic Performance Looks Like
To see just how unique Marianne Williamson is as a candidate, let’s compare her debate performance to another outsider meme candidate – Andrew Yang.
Disclosure – I like Yang. I agree with him on a lot of issues. Plus, I’m loyal to anyone who promotes my movie, especially when a Presidential candidate mentions my film by name in Washington Post Magazine, which Yang did. Thank you #YangGang.
That said, his debate performance was not strong.
The first question Yang got was a gotcha question about how he will pay for his signature issue – Universal Basic Income, or giving every American $1000 a month.
Andrew Yang responded to this like a genuine question – with math and data. It was a long, complicated answer, that most people couldn’t follow. It made it seem like we couldn’t afford his plan.
Compare what he said to this reframe:
Q: How raise three trillion dollars to give Americans a thousand a month?
Yang: With the looming threat of automation, how can we afford not to give Americans a universal basic income?
“But that didn’t answer the question!” Ah, now you’re starting to understand politics.
Here is another potential answer: Amazon currently pays zero in taxes. Andrew Yang has said he will pay for UBI by taxing Silicon Valley companies benefiting from automation. “We will get the money from Amazon and Netflix” could easily become a Trump level meme:
build the wallgive every American $1000 a month and MexicoAmazon will pay for it!”
Are you starting to see the power speaking of memetically?
Yang rose because “$1000 a month” was powerful meme. It generated absurd images like Yang making it rain cash to rap songs. Yang seemed like he could generate these memes himself – for example reframing gun control as giving every gun owner a “James Bond gun.” However, on-stage he became nervous, and got too technical.
Marianne Williamson intuitively understands that as the outsider candidate it is her job to just spam memes every time she get’s a chance to talk on the debate stage. Like Trump, it’s not clear if she is doing it consciously or just genuinely naturally memetic. (I’d guess both have an unconscious competence, where they naturally gravitate towards the image that excites them most.) Either way the result is the same – they get attention – and attention is the currency of the realm.
Why Marianne Williamson Might Lose
Unlike Trump, Marianne Williamson has some unique challenges Trump did not face.
- The system is better rigged against her. In 2016, DNC used party rules, superdelegates, and media allies to suppress the Bernie Sanders campaign. During the first Democratic debate, Andrew Yang said his mic was turned off. If Marianne Williamson becomes a real political force, the Democratic establishment will not play fair with her, and may bend or break the rules to stop her from winning.
- Her opposition is stronger. Party favorite Kamala Harris is light years ahead of Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. Harris herself had some genuinely memetic moments during the debate, and went in for the kill on Joe Biden, knocking him out the way Trump would dispose of the other Republican candidates.
- There are other outsider candidates. Tulsi Gabbard, Andrew Yang, and even Bernie Sanders have the same outsider status, and their own signature memetic issues. Those who don’t like the current DNC leadership might split their votes between these candidates, whereas Trump was the only true outsider in the 2016 primary.
- Social media is more controlled. Since 2016, many social media companies have tightened their moderation and begun censoring certain users and viewpoints to stop future Trump-like political victories. While Marianne Williamson has a strong social media presence, there is a real danger of tech giants suppressing her campaign or even banning influential accounts that support her.
- Less money. Trump is a billionaire. Although Marianne Williamson has money, she isn’t as rich.
While these are huge challenges – one that a candidate without memetic power could not overcome – they are not insurmountable.
Conclusion – Williamson Could Win
I don’t know if Marianne Williamson will win. It’s too early to say. However, I think she has the potential to win. She has to play her hand well to do it, but the all cards are there. Marianne Williamson is a real contender with the potential to win.
Read my post from 2015 predicting Trump here.