Marianne Williamson wants to take a page out of the Donald Trump playbook and remake American politics – again. And she wants to do it with a healing message of love, she says, not fear.

In 2016, President Trump proved that a political novice with a larger-than-life persona and big ideas could win the White House. Now Ms. Williamson – a bestselling author, activist, and lecturer on spiritual themes – is in the hunt, one of 20 Democratic presidential candidates who say they’ve qualified to take part in the initial primary debates, which begin June 26.

She faces a steep climb to the nomination. A mid-April poll by Change Research showed that 66% of likely Democratic voters do not know her name. A recent Monmouth poll put her support at 1%.

In an interview, Ms. Williamson calls for “an awakening of the American mind” and describes herself as a “radical truth-teller.” That approach to Mr. Trump, she says, is the only way to defeat him.

“The only way to beat big lies is with big truth,” says Ms. Williamson, who shot to fame in the early 1990s when her first book was featured by Oprah Winfrey. “He will eat a half-truth teller alive in this election. And the Democrats have been telling half-truths for decades now, ever since they too started playing footsie under the table with the same corporate forces that are the problem.”

Ms. Williamson has planted herself firmly in the left wing of the Democratic Party. Among her positions, she wants public financing of federal campaigns, cuts to “excessive” military spending, and reparations for the descendants of slaves.

But it’s her focus on the spiritual health of the nation and her signature proposal – creation of a Department of Peace and a Department of Childhood and Youth – that distinguish her candidacy. These cabinet-level agencies would boost U.S. efforts at international and domestic peace-building and address what she calls the “humanitarian emergency” around children in the United States.

Ms. Williamson bristles at the suggestion she’s a long-shot candidate. And, she insists, she’s not new to politics – both literally (she ran for Congress in 2014) and in a larger sense, as she has spent decades focused on how to heal society’s ills. 

“The political establishment has a way of proffering this illusion that they’re the only ones who sit around and think deeply about America,” says Ms. Williamson, whose latest book is called “The Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution.”

“Everybody cares about America, and politicians don’t care any more than anybody else does, and they don’t have any better ideas than anybody else does.”

Ms. Williamson is the only Jewish woman in the presidential race, a point of pride for the Texas native. In college, she studied comparative religion and philosophy, and later, at a time of personal challenge, turned to a metaphysical book called “A Course in Miracles.” It is that book that grounds her work, as does her Jewish heritage. She has also read the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy.

The following are excerpts from Ms. Williamson’s interview with the Monitor, conducted with Nadine Epstein, editor of the Jewish magazine Moment.

What is some of the Jewish wisdom that guides you?

Tikkun olam [repair the world], certainly.  Also, I am so moved by the line: “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you permitted to abandon it. Love mercy, do justice, walk humbly.”

What spoke to you about “A Course in Miracles”?

It is a book about universal spiritual themes. My mother had a close friend who was a conservative Christian lady. Anytime anybody did something good, she would say, “Oh, she’s such a good Christian!” One day, my mother couldn’t take it anymore, and said, “What do you think a good Jew is?” All these things this woman was saying, that’s also what a good Jew does. That’s also what a good person does. To be a good person is the core of all the great religious systems.

You speak of the “dichotomy” of American history. What do you mean?

Our country was founded on the most enlightened principles that have ever formed the founding of a nation. And from the beginning, we have been at times the most violent transgressors against those principles. We had slavery, but then we had abolition. We had the suppression of women, but then we had two waves of feminism and the women’s suffragette movement. … To me, the modern political establishment – the Democrats no less than the Republicans – speaks to people’s self-interest. I’m not saying, “Elect me and I could do this for you.” Politics should be a far more noble conversation. It should be: This is what this generation should do for our unborn great-grandchildren.

Is anger an appropriate tool for political activism?

I’ve likened anger to white sugar. It gives you a high. “I’m angry! I’m going to get Trump!” But you will crash. Political change is a marathon, not a sprint. If all we do is beat Trump, those forces will be back in ’22 and they’ll be back in ’24. We have to do more than save us from the cliff. And that’s a deeper, larger, less sexy job that we’re going to need real nutrition for.

As a woman, what do you bring to leadership? 

It’s not just that I’m a woman. I’m a Texan, I’m a Jew, and I’m 66 years old. If I were president, I would be humane and compassionate and values-based with the use of power. I would not be timid. In politics, you must compromise. But with vision, you should never compromise. And to me, that’s part of leadership.

You refer to a “silent emergency” involving children. What do you mean?

Millions of American children go to classrooms where they do not even have the adequate school supplies with which to teach a child to read. We have elementary school children on suicide watch. Around 13 million American children go to school hungry every day. We have children living in what’s called America’s domestic war zones, where psychologists say the PTSD of returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq is no more severe than the PTSD of these children. These children should be rescued, no differently than if they were the victims of a natural disaster. And what is the political establishment doing, except normalizing their despair?

I want a massive realignment of investment in the direction of children 10 years old and younger. … It’s not so much how I would exercise power differently than a man, it’s what I want to use power for that is different.

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