It might sound wishy-washy, and it’s cliché at best. But 2020 Democratic White House hopeful and self-help author Marianne Williamson has a point: America needs more love.
The media coverage following every mass shooting always reveal the ugly feelings of neighbors and elites on all sides of the political spectrum. Democrats will condemn the massacres as products of Republican cowering to a single interest group while mocking the “thoughts and prayers” of sincerely held religious beliefs while Republicans capitalize on the fear of those who believe a totalitarian government will be born out of a Democratic president promising to strip the public of their firearms. Democrats used to combat the image but now seem to embrace it, and Republicans are now beginning to indicate willingness to pass new federal gun laws in defiance of their voters.
Generalizations to be sure, but the polarization on the issue is emblematic of a larger problem. Political disagreements in America are stoking more than just hatred. Instead this situation is breeding contempt for our neighbors where people are beginning to see their political opponents as something less than human. Contempt for one another can be found in almost any area of policy where there is wide-range disagreement, including immigration, health care, and especially abortion.
Last month’s back-to-back shootings showcased some of the worst divisions in American politics, and this week appears to be no different in the aftermath of another shooting in Texas that took the lives of seven people. As the nation focuses on Hurricane Dorian wreaking havoc in the Bahamas and threatening the east coast, however, the exhaustive debate on gun control is likely to garner far less coverage than in early August but maintains its usual level of smugness and contempt as every other incident.
After the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, “#MassacreMitch” began trending for hours on Twitter, blaming the Senate majority leader for the killings of 31 people by crazy and deranged human beings. Protests even erupted outside of Mitch McConnell’s home, with one woman who was later identified as a local Black Lives Matter leader caught on video screaming “Just stab the mother f—er in the heart, please,” and another person shouting “die!”
America is now facing historic levels of polarization since the Civil War. According to a 2016 poll from the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Democrats said they had a “very unfavorable” view of Republicans while 58 percent of Republicans held the same view of Democrats. According to Pew survey published in July, 85 percent of American adults said the “tone and nature” of our political discourse has become more negative in recent years. A Reuters/Ipsos survey shows that 15 percent, or one in six Americans, reported that they had either stopped talking to a close friend or family member over the result of the 2016 presidential election.
But America doesn’t just need to restore tolerance and civility in its politics. One can be civil towards others and tolerate their views without talking to them. America, as sentimental as it sounds, needs love. This brings us back to Williamson, who, among the Democrats running for president, has been the most outspoken candidate in support of this movement.
Her first introduction to many Americans, including most politicos, came during her appearance at the first Democratic presidential debate. On stage, the New Age guru pledged not to campaign on a heavy set of detailed policy proposals but instead to run on a message of love, challenging a president Williamson said, “has reached into the psyche of the American people” and “harnessed fear for political purposes.”
“Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want you to hear me out, please,” Williamson declared to a primetime audience from Miami. “You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out… I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and sir, love will win.”
She is easy to mock. Her pagan preaching on the campaign trail is highly unusual in American politics, and even probably uncomfortable for many political observers. Her proposal for a U.S. Department of Peace reads as if Williamson had just returned from a Peyote trip in the deserts of the American southwest.
While her stances on policy make Williamson as left as they come, endorsing a Green New Deal, a universal basic income, single-payer health care, and reparations for slavery, her message of love and unity is refreshing in a toxic political environment where discourse is becoming impossible around the dinner table with those who disagree.
Will it catapult her to the White House? Not likely. Her polling numbers are consistently low, averaging at less than 1 percent support in Real Clear Politics’ latest aggregate of polls, and she failed to qualify for the third presidential debate slated to take place in Houston next week. The last presidential candidate to travel the country on the presidential campaign trail telling Americans to embrace one another was John Kasich, who decisively lost in the Republican primary.
But her candidacy has a clear message, and Americans would be wise to listen.