In This Episode
Author and activist Marianne Williamson joins Jon Favreau to discuss her bid for president, the difference between moral outrage and anger, getting money out of politics, and why she wants to establish a Department of Peace. Plus, her take on the role of spirituality in politics.
Learn more about Marianne Williamson here.
Interview: Jon Favreau and Marianne Williamson
Jon Favreau: [00:00:49] Marianne Williamson. Welcome to pod save America.
Marianne Williamson: [00:00:50] Thank you. Thank you for having me. I’m honored.
Jon Favreau: [00:00:53] So you’ve been a spiritual and inspirational best-selling author many times over. You’ve worked at nonprofits, you’ve run for Congress. Obviously, there are other candidates in the field without much experience in Washington or even elected office. But what is it about your specific set of qualifications and life experiences that made you say, I’m the best person to be leading this country at this moment?
Marianne Williamson: [00:01:21] I’ve worked up close and personal with people for over 35 years who are dealing with crises in their lives, seeking to navigate those crises to transform them into opportunity and I have recognized particularly over the last 20 years, how many of those crises are at least indirectly and often directly a result of bad public policy. So not only do I have a real visceral sense of how bad public policy affects people’s lives and which bad public policy affects people’s lives, but also a deep passion for what needs to change. I think that that’s what it’s all about. It’s about human suffering. How to address it and how to ameliorate it, that’s what politics should be. Politics should be a conduit for making people’s lives better. Securing our rights, not thwarting them.
Jon Favreau: [00:02:12] Right. So you were a Bernie Sanders supporter in 2016. What made you say, not this time this time, this time I want to do it myself?
Marianne Williamson: [00:02:19] Nothing in me has said no. This is not about no towards Bernie. It’s a yes about me, if you know, I’m a big fan of Bernie Sanders. I have been a big fan of Bernie Sanders and on the vast majority of his policies, I agree with him. However, I’m having what I believe is a more expanded conversation as well. We need an integrative politics and by that, I mean we need to factor in much more than just external issues. The reason that the left was gobsmacked by his success, the establishment, the Democratic establishment was gobsmacked by his success, is the same reason that the Republican establishment was gobsmacked by the success of Donald Trump. Both of them failed to recognize, and for the most part still do fail to recognize, the significance of psychological and emotional factors in political dynamics. I had seen up close and personal as I said for decades the economic despair, the economic tension and anxiety that is prevalent in the lives of so many millions of people that I wasn’t surprised that this economic populist cry of despair made itself heard. Tt was going to make itself heard either in a leftist progressive populism or an authoritarian right-wing populism such as is Donald Trump. So when I see certain things, certain issues where people are suffering needlessly and the political establishment is simply normalizing that despair rather than addressing it, then I’m going to speak up. That’s what I do.
Jon Favreau: [00:03:56] Marilynne Robinson says the basis of our democracy is the willingness to assume well about other people. I’ve always loved that line. How did we get to a place where so much of politics here and around the world is more focused on this idea of the sinister other than it has been in quite a while? It’s always been there.
Marianne Williamson: [00:04:20] You of all people have demonstrated how much political force can be manifest when we go high rather than low. When aspirational principles are spoken, literally you of all people. So if you stop extending the light, don’t go be surprised when the darkness comes in. You have to be proactive in extending the principles, the ideas and the energies which do create positive force. And if you remember, there’s really no such thing as neutrality. Neutrality is a myth and a lot of Americans over the last few decades, both economically, socially, and politically, we have fallen for the myth of neutrality. Well, we’re not really trying to hurt anybody which is not trying to help anybody. We’re not really trying to exploit people, we’re just trying to get along and leave people alone. No, there is no such thing. As they used to say in the 60s, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. If whether in our individual lives, our personal lives or our societal lives, we’re not holding high proactively and vigorously the principles of democracy and the principles of deep humanitarian concern and passion, there is no reason to be surprised. You know, you turn off the lights the darkness sets in. So now everybody’s talking about what do we do about the darkness. The answer is turn on the light.
Jon Favreau: [00:05:45] Well people would say…I mean, you know, obviously as you pointed out, I worked in the Obama Administration. I think he conducted himself in that manner, his administration did. I think Hillary Clinton tried her best to run her campaign like that. How do you think we ended up with Donald Trump when there were some leaders, some politicians trying to be optimistic, to lift people up?
Marianne Williamson: [00:06:10] Well, I don’t mean to pander to you, but words matter and once…There was a big difference between, in my opinion, between the campaign, Obama’s campaign in ’08, and the way governance unfolded. The words, you know, I think it was Cuomo who said that we campaign in poetry and we govern in prose – should never do that. You should campaign in poetry and you should govern in poetry. So it was the poetry, was the words. You know, anybody said words don’t matter, say that to Shakespeare. Words have tremendous force. First there was the word, it’s even a Biblical concept. So words lifted everybody up and then the word stopped. Okay, now we’re going to get to business. Well hello? Hello? And you know, I think part of the tragedy with Hillary Clinton is what happened was Trump named people’s pain. Bernie named people’s pain. Hilary did not name the pain. I’m not saying she didn’t care about the pain, and I’m not saying that she wouldn’t have done everything in her power to assuage the pain, but her campaign when she was out there saying, oh, we just need to continue the success of the Obama years. I knew in my heart right then, because I travel this country. That’s what I’ve done for 35 years. I knew how many millions of people were out there thinking, continue the success? I’m freaking dying here.
Jon Favreau: [00:07:39] Right. Well, that’s also an argument. You know, obviously that pain’s out there. It is very easy for a demagogue like Trump to channel that pain into anger and to division, into fear, into hatred. How do you turn that around while still recognizing it because some people, you know, who are feeling that pain, who are feeling that economic dislocation that you mentioned, will say hope and change, that sounds nice. We’ve heard it too. Hope and change. That sounds great. That’s easy for them to say. These are these are well-off, wealthy political leaders telling us this. What are you going to do for me?
Marianne Williamson: [00:08:18] Well, first of all, Democrats have to take responsibility for the fact that there is some legitimacy in that point. When you allow people to get to the point…I mean there is absolutely no reason that things got as bad as they were. Democrats were in charge a lot of that time, Democrats were in charge a lot of the time that the trajectory was unfolding of the largest massing in inequality since 1929. Democrats were in charge some of that time. Democrats were in charge some of the time when we were moving towards a place where 1% of all Americans was owning more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Democrats were in charge a lot of that time, including in charge of the economy during that time when we were leading to a place where 40 percent of all Americans are struggling on a daily basis just to make basic costs. So for those of us or for those Americans who do not have a historical memory such as I do of a time when the Democrats stood for the people no matter what, even if it was against overreach by capitalist forces so that we look at the times when the Democrats do often cozy up to those corporate forces and we say, yeah, but you know, they’re really, their hearts in the right place. And too many Americans haven’t seen that or don’t recognize that or certainly haven’t seen that in their lives. In my opinion while we have a Republican party that’s been bought hook, line and sinker into the idea of a corporatist agenda, my sense…well two things, going back to words also. Republicans don’t walk their talk, but Democrats too often don’t talk their walk. Now with Democratic policies, in my opinion, the vast majority of the time their policies seek to assuage the pain that is produced by unjust economic policies. But it’s too often just pain on the periphery because too often Democrats are unwilling to address the underlying forces and to challenge the underlying forces that make all that pain inevitable.
Jon Favreau: [00:10:14] What policies would you pursue as president to challenge those underlying forces?
Marianne Williamson: [00:10:19] Well, the first thing we need to do is to recognize that the undue influence of money on our politics is the cancer underlying all these other cancers. One of the very sad things, of course about the fact that Hillary did not win is that we don’t have a chance anytime soon of appointing a Supreme Court Justice that might give us a path towards overturning Citizens United. So we have two things here. One, we have the possibility of a constitutional amendment and the possibility of legislation. If, and this is why I think it is important that the Democrats win the Senate as it is important that the Democrats when the White House in 2020. That would be the magic possibility here. If that’s the case, first thing I would do is submit to Congress legislation to establish public funding for federal campaigns. The issue…it’s not big enough in my opinion for the Democrats to say we want universal health care. Democrats also need to be making very clear and standing on the realization not just in what we know but in what we are willing to say. That the reason we don’t have universal health care right now is because it would cut into short-term profits for health insurance companies and big pharma. We need to be willing to say, to name it and to say it and to challenge it. That the reason we’re not addressing the climate crisis adequately is because of the obstruction from and the fact that it would cut into short-term profits for fossil fuel companies. And the Democratic party should name and challenge the fact that we do not have a national security agenda based on creating peace in the world anytime in the next few decades because to really do that would cut into short-term profits for defense contractors and the nuclear industry and that is exactly what I mean by challenging, by naming it, by bringing the American people into that realization rather than exploiting how often the American people, our brains are scrambled and they don’t really get what’s going on here. The Democrats should not only stand for doing the right thing, but in order to do that there has to stop being the moral equivocation on the part of too many Democrats by which the Democratic party has itself been willing to pander, cozy up to, and play footsies under the table with those same corporate forces because they too take the money.
Jon Favreau: [00:12:29] Do you see the support in Congress, even among Democrats and the public, for publicly funded elections, since…
Marianne Williamson: [00:12:36] That’s my point here. That’s exactly my point.
Jon Favreau: [00:12:40] You think you can pass that?
Marianne Williamson: [00:12:36] Well, there are two kinds of Democrats, aren’t there? And that’s being played out in this campaign. There are two categories here. The two categories is the incrementalist who say we can have it both ways. We can take their money. We can take tens of thousands from some security investment firms. We can take tens of thousand from Big Pharma. We can take tens or even more thousands from oil companies, but we’re going to go and be an instrument of change. Yeah, right. There’s that, and they’re saying well, we’ll make these incremental changes and then there are those of us who say this has got to stop. We need a fundamental pattern disruption of the American political and economic status quo.
Jon Favreau: [00:13:14] Do you see HR-1 as incremental or sweeping?
Marianne Williamson: [00:13:18] Sweeping. Really good stuff. I was impressed by it and I think it’s a perfect example of, if you only have the House and you don’t have the Senate…
Jon Favreau: [00:13:28] What do you do about, as president, this Republican party? Do you try to work with them? Do you try to work around them? What do you do with…
Marianne Williamson: [00:13:36] Well it depends on who has the power in the House and who has the power in the Senate.
Jon Favreau: [00:13:39] Okay, well, let’s say Democrats do take the Senate back, in the best scenario, but we still have a 60-vote threshold. Do you get rid of the filibuster?
Marianne Williamson: [00:13:50] There should be…they shouldn’t be able to shut down the whole thing, but there should be a way of actually…I mean, there is a constitutional issue there. But I I don’t think they should be able to cut off all conversation.
Jon Favreau: [00:14:03] So let’s say in a scenario where the Democrats don’t win the Senate back and Mitch McConnell hangs on. What happens to your legislative agenda? Or do you have executive actions that you would pursue?
Marianne Williamson: [00:14:14] Well there are times when you take executive actions that do not represent executive overreach but are appropriate, I believe in the case of Obama they were, because let’s not kid ourselves. McConnell said our main goal is to make Obama a one-term president. He made it very, very clear that they were not interested in any kind of positive relationship, positive in the sense that that is a great American political tradition. That it is a loyal opposition and that you try to work together. I am less interested in thinking about how awful it’s going to be if it goes back to those days and more interested in talking about all that we can do once we are delivered to a new possibility and I believe two things. I think first of all in terms of the presidential election, this last presidential election, we need to remember. Trump did not win just because the Trump voters voted for him. Trump won every bit as much because of how many of us stayed home. And how many of us voted for Jill Stein. Now, I’m one of those people who believe that if the Democratic establishment had kept their finger off the scales and let it be very, very clear that the people decided, then either Hillary or Bernie would have won the primaries, but we would have all felt…this goes back to the emotional and psychological forces. It would have made everybody feel like, okay, it’s our candidate. I think we would have had a lot more Democrats at the polls. That’s number one. Number two, look what happened in this last midterm. We have a lot to be hopeful about and also I think among women there’s been a very delayed reaction to how much misogyny was at the core of that campaign. Also we’ve had the Me Too movement. Man, women are so ready to express ourselves. Now with this spate of anti-abortion laws, give women a chance, man. We are so ready. The dominance of the Mitch McConnells of the world is on its way out.
Jon Favreau: [00:16:14] Well, so what’s your theory of political change because you know in this race, we hear different things from different candidates. There are some who believe they can try to work with Mitch McConnell and the Republicans to compromise. Bernie Sanders calls for a political revolution. You know, there’s some candidates that believe we just need to elect more Democrats. How do you change the political system? How do you bring in those voters who stayed home in 2016, the Obama voters who stayed home in 2016, the third party voters? How do you bring how do you inspire those people to come back into the political system?
Marianne Williamson: [00:16:48] Look who’s asking. You know the answer to that.
Jon Favreau: [00:16:51] I wish I did.
Marianne Williamson: [00:16:53] Well I think you do because you demonstrated it. The issue…the only way to defeat a big lie is with big truth. Donald Trump will eat the half-truth tellers alive. If all the Democrats do is nominate someone who’s one of those kind of, sort of people, we can have it both ways people, we can be sort of a better version of same old, same old, Trump will win again. But if we are willing to really lay it down…we have more than a swamp. We have an ocean of corruption. We need someone, I believe, and this is why I’m running, who’s really willing to say what we all know to be true. That’s the thing. It’s kind of like the Leonard Cohen song “Everybody Knows.” Everybody knows. Everybody knows what this country has become. We’re not functioning as a democracy, we’re functioning as an aristocracy. We are a corporatocracy, we’re not a government whose policy is of the people, by the people, for the people so much as it is a few of the people, by a few other people, for a few of the people. Of the multinational corporate interest, by the multinational corporate interests, and for the multinational corporate interest. And many people, however dysfunctional this is, I think they are at a point where the only way they have to express their rage is to refuse to vote. However dysfunctional, it is an act of rebellion. But those people, when you lay it down and are honest with them, my experience…and I have experience. I have experience not only through my geographical travels, but also through my socioeconomic travels. I’ve worked with people in palaces, I’ve worked with people in prisons. I had an experience this last week that was a really interesting demonstration to me of this. I don’t care where people are, who people are, how rich people are, how advantaged or disadvantaged people are. People are smart. People are smart, and they are noble at their core and if you just talk truth to them, they appreciate that and they will rise to the occasion. The problem with America–
Jon Favreau: [00:18:53] Have you had experiences where you’ve persuaded people – I know you’re very persuasive on a whole host of issues – have you persuaded people to change their mind about politics that seems to be at the core of their political leanings? That seems to be the core of our problem right now?
Marianne Williamson: [00:19:09] I remind people of America’s mission statements.
Jon Favreau: [00:19:12] And what is that?
Marianne Williamson: [00:19:13] All men are created equal, all are created equal. God gave all men unalienable rights of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Governments are instituted to secure those rights and government of the people and by the people and for the people is not to perish from this earth and it’s perishing on our watch. And it is the responsibility of every generation, when democracy is so threatened, to rise up. And that is what happened. The political establishment did not wake up one day and say, ‘Let’s free the slaves.’ No, the people stepped in. The abolitionist movement. The political establishment did not wake up one day and say, ‘I think we should give women the right to vote.’ No, that’s not what happened. But people stepped in, a la the suffragette movement. And the political establishment didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘Let’s dismantle segregation and just stop with this whole institutionalized white supremacy thing.’ No, it was the people stepping in a la the civil rights movement. It’s happening again. It’s the same, it just a new formation. That’s what symptoms do. They just morph. It began with the aristocracy that we repudiated in 1776. The many revolutions with which we have repudiated aristocratic forces throughout our history. It is simply time to repudiate them again, let this not be the first generation to wimp out on doing what it takes to push back against deeply fundamentally undemocratic forces when they are at the door. And it was naive of us to ever believe. You can’t say, well I was healthy in 2015 so I don’t have to eat well or diet or exercise anymore. If you don’t take care of your of your health, don’t go being surprised when you lose your health. If you don’t take care of your relationship, don’t go being surprised if you lose your relationship. And I think part of the awakening of the last two years is we have not proactively nurtured and cultivated the deep democratic and humanitarian principles that are at the core of right living within the public domain. We need to harness that now. He has harnessed fear and racism and bigotry and anti-Semitism and all of those things for political purposes, but there are far more lovers than haters in this country. But those who hate hate with conviction and conviction is a force multiplier. Abolitionists had conviction. The women suffragettes had conviction and the civil rights workers had conviction. We need conviction and just an over-secularized corporatized mentality that plays it both ways lacks conviction, lacks moral persuasive.
Jon Favreau: [00:21:57] What do you say to a lot of activists on the left? I’ve heard this, especially women, especially people of color, especially people in marginalized communities who say our anger is not only valid but useful, and as a tool for political and social change. I remember that you wrote in your first book that you used to be an angry left-winger. And then you realized that an angry generation can’t bring about peace which I think is fascinating because you’re obviously still a left-winger, still very progressive. But you know, you see this debate play out in the Democratic party. I think Joe Biden, you know, when he announced, said something about we don’t need an angry nominee and a lot of people on the left got very upset about that and said ‘I’m angry. You know, I’ve been marginalized. I’ve been discriminated against because of this presidency and I think that anger and that rage is useful as an organizing tool.’ What do you think about that?
Marianne Williamson: [00:22:48] I think moral outrage is not born of anger. Moral outrage is born of love and women, you know, women have known this forever. We express our fierceness, we’re called angry. So we know there’s a lot of projection and misuse of that word to hold people down when we’re expressing our passion. When you allow anger to be the fuel for your political activism, it’s like choosing white sugar as opposed to a healthy diet as your nutritional support. So white sugar will give you an adrenaline high and you have all this energy and then you’ll crash. Political change is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. And so it ultimately eats away at you, if that’s your motivation. You are serving…it’s higher and every bit as powerful to know you’re serving the ages. Something fierce rises up, particularly in a people with a history of oppression. Something fierce and way more powerful than anger rises up when you say you did it to my grandparents and you’re not going to do it to my kids. It’s not anger, it’s just that this shit stops now.
Jon Favreau: [00:24:00] Yeah. You’ve been a supporter of the idea of a Department of Peace for a while. How would a Department of Peace work? What would the function be?
Marianne Williamson: [00:24:05] Well, first of all, there are two categories to address. One is international and one is domestic. So right now we have a $715 billion military budget. We have a $40 billion State Department budget. Now even Donald Rumsfeld said we must learn to wage peace. And General Mattis said if you’re not going to fully fund the state department, I’m going to have to buy more ammunition. Development, mediation, diplomacy etc. All of that is within State Department now. It’s like I said, we need an integrative model. You can’t just take medicine. You have to cultivate your health, right? So you can’t just endlessly prepare for war and hope that you back up into peace because war is the absence of peace. Peace isn’t the absence of war. So we have to proactively cultivate peace. Now, there are peace-building agencies within the State Department. So remember the math here. $718 for the military, $40 billion for the state department and guess how much money the specifically peace-building agencies get?
Jon Favreau: [00:25:04] A couple percent of that.
Marianne Williamson: [00:25:06] Less than a billion. Less than a billion. Plus USAID is $17 billion, and the U.S. Institute of Peace gets a whopping $36 million. So with public policy, just like with your personal life, how you spend your money is an expression of your values. So there are two issues here for a Department of Peace. I would not want to go in and with some…I think it would appear arrogant and disrespectful if I walk in there and say okay, we’re gonna have an international Department of Peace there. I think that a lot of people who work in those agencies would go, ‘Excuse me, we’ve been doing this.’ And so I would want to beef up what they’re already doing. Far better funding for what they’re doing, but all within an umbrella of realization that we not only have peacebuilding issues that must be addressed internationally, but also domestically. We have domestic war zones. One of the reasons I want to U.S. Department of Children and Youth is because we have millions of American children living with chronic trauma, going to schools where they don’t even have the school supplies with which to adequately teach a child to read and if a child cannot read by the age of eight, the chances of high school graduation are drastically diminished and the chances of incarceration are drastically increased. But one of the other issues with these children, many of whom live in these domestic war zones, is that psychologists tell us the PTSD of a returning veteran from Afghanistan and Iraq is no more severe than these children’s PTSD due to the fact that they live in such violent communities, homes, etc. We need wraparound services, community wraparound services, trauma-informed education, conflict resolution, restorative justice, mindfulness in the schools. Now, some of the issues of peace-building are the same whether somebody’s working in the Congo or working in the inner city of Chicago. Some of them are different however. So I think if we have a United States Department of Peace, you make the international part beefing up what already exists in the state department and then on the domestic level, addressing all these issues of peace-building that are necessary here in the United States.
Jon Favreau: [00:27:11] Under what circumstances would you use military force as commander-in-chief?
Marianne Williamson: [00:27:16] If there’s a direct threat to an ally, direct threat to the humanitarian order of the world.
Jon Favreau: [00:27:22] That seems to be the tough one. Like what do you do–
Marianne Williamson: [00:27:24] No, I don’t think it’s tough. Rwanda, hello? Syria, he would have said it’s a red line and then it would have been his red line. Yes, I would have.
Jon Favreau: [00:27:31] Would you have…you would have sent forces to Syria?
Marianne Williamson: [00:27:34] I believe that when Obama said that’s my red line, it should have been his red line, yes. And the other one of course is when our own homeland is threatened.
Jon Favreau: [00:27:42] I guess the question on sending forces for humanitarian missions, and this is one of the most challenging questions in all foreign policy and U.S. foreign policy as well is how do you know when military force can make a difference in a potential genocide, in a mass slaughter of civilians like in the case of Syria and the case Rwanda as you mentioned. Versus you know, I’m going to send in troops to an open-ended commitment. How do you define the mission? How do you define when to send U.S. troops in to conduct a humanitarian mission.
Marianne Williamson: [00:28:16] Political leadership is not just a science, it’s an art, as is medicine. That’s like saying, when is this operable? When is it not? When do we use chemo? When do we use radiation? When do we take out the tumor? It’s integrative. Once again, I keep talking about this, it’s integrative. So one of the things that we’ll have when I’m president, if I’m president, is that there will be so much a more robust and sophisticated relationship between defense and state. State will have as the leader when I’m president, a world-class humanitarian, a world-class diplomat. Somebody who’s understanding of what is going on inside people is as deep as what’s going on outside people and we sit there and we figure it out just like, remember the television show “House.” When they all sit around the table. Given the situation, what are the best things to do? However, what we have in politics is what we used to have in medicine like 75 years ago, where invasive measures and brute force basically, physical brute force is your primary problem-solving option, and that will not be true. But I do believe that there are times when, for instance, when you say would you have used force? Let’s say Rwanda. Yes, and I would have gone in sooner. I remember during the Bosnian War. I was with the Republicans on that like, when are those planes going to go? When are those planes going to go? And you know what, this is an interesting issue for me in that situation because I remember it very well. The American people are good people. We are, we’re good people. I remember this would be before your time. I remember years ago, there was some little girl and she…I think her name was Jessica. I’m not sure. She’d fallen in a well. The whole country held its breath and people would like meet in the hallway at work, like ‘Did they get her? Do you know if they got her?’ So when you show us one suffering person, Americans really care, particularly if it’s children. But for whatever reason this denial and grandiosity sets in when it’s millions and millions of them. We’re easy to fool and distract from that. We’re easier to fool and distract from the suffering of millions than we are to fool and distract from the suffering of one. It’s very interesting. Like that’s why we’re very good with the screaming emergencies but not necessarily with the silent emergencies like the millions of American children who live in this chronic trauma every day. So what happens with the system, the sociopathic, economic and political system, the way it operates is do what you want to do and then whatever suffering results, make sure it’s on the other side of town or on the other side of the world so the people don’t see it. Because if they see it, they care. When Americans can see it, we care. So what happened with Bosnia is…and to Clinton’s credit, Clinton kept saying ‘I want to go in there. I want to go in there.’ And it was the Europeans who were holding back. And then there were all these stories and they started making it into the newspapers in the United States of how 12-year-old boys were having their throats slit. How they would go in and grab little boys and slit their throats. Once those stories made the American newspapers, enough. You could just feel it, critical mass. You could feel it. NATO planes were, like within days. So when you speak to the conscience of the American people, that’s what’s wrong with our politics. It panders to popularity and it panders to self-interest. I can do this for you. I can do this for you. I’m not having that conversation with the American people. I’m saying we together can do the right thing.
Jon Favreau: [00:32:00] One of the challenges with that is though, you know, George W. Bush would use stories of mass atrocities or atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein to justify a war in Iraq that I think we all believe was a mistake. So how do you–
Marianne Williamson: [00:32:17] Well the point is he wasn’t a truth teller —
Jon Favreau: [00:32:20] Right. Well, he was an awful dictator, but at some point, sometimes I think the United States has to look and see, all right. This is an awful dictator. If we had our way, we do not want this person in power. But do we commit U.S. forces and U.S. lives and U.S. treasure to trying to remove this person knowing that the consequences of removal could be worse than…
Marianne Williamson: [00:32:41] Well of course not. Of course not. We can’t go invading every country or seeking regime change in every country that is abusing human rights, for instance. I mean obviously. And we did not go into Iraq because Saddam Hussein was a terrible dictator who was mean to his people. The fact that he was a terrible dictator and was mean to his people was simply used to exploit the emotions, to manipulate the emotions of a good people who were not being told the truth and we were led into a terrible, terrible mistake.
Jon Favreau: [00:33:14] I want to ask you about faith and spirituality. What do you think about some of the polls and studies that say Americans, especially young Americans are becoming steadily less religious, or at least less tied to a specific religion? Why do you think that is?
Marianne Williamson: [00:33:29] Because I think that sometimes, the institutional dogma and doctrine got in the way of the deep mystical and spiritual truth that is at the heart of all the great religious systems of the world. So even though while it’s true and not a bad thing that there is less interest in a certain kind of dogmatic doctrinaire religious institutional identity, there is clearly an uprising. I mean, this is obvious. This is, you know, where do you think all that mindfulness stuff comes from? Where do you think all those yoga mats come from? Where do you think all this health and wellness stuff comes from? It comes from the spiritual center which is alive and well and mainstreamed in the United States and I would know something about that.
Jon Favreau: [00:34:06] What role do you think faith and spirituality play in our pluralistic democracy?
Marianne Williamson: [00:34:14] The abolitionist movement arose from the early Evangelicals and Quakers. Many of the leaders of the women’s suffragette movement were Quakers. And Dr. King was a Baptist preacher and it was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, hello. All of the great social justice movements have been a product of a spiritual impulse. That’s why when I said before, it’s always when the people step in and the people step in when the heart says, okay too much. We’ve got to stop this.
Jon Favreau: [00:34:41] What do you say as president to the Evangelical Christian who says, ‘My religion dictates that abortion is murder and homosexuality is an abomination?’
Marianne Williamson: [00:34:52] This is America, we’re a free society. Nobody owes it to anyone to agree with you, to agree with me, or to agree with the President. And I believe that abortion is a moral issue. I simply believe that it is an issue of private morality and not public morality. I believe that the moral decision-making and the biological choices are to be made by the woman herself and it is an attack on the agency of women to seek to deny them that right. So if people believe that abortion is a moral abomination, that is their right but that is very different than saying that they have the right to stop another woman or any woman from making that choice for herself.
Jon Favreau: [00:35:36] I guess the challenge is when can your personal spirituality, private morality influence public morality and public law and when shouldn’t it?
Marianne Williamson: [00:35:48] When it has to do with the rights of the individual versus the common good. I mean that is the art of governance. We are always seeking to balance, when we’re in our right minds, we’re seeking to balance individual liberty, and I have a little bit of a libertarian streak, the older I get. When it comes to the individuals…but that has to be balanced with a concern for the common good and it’s not as difficult to make that delineation as you might think if that’s actually your aim.
Jon Favreau: [00:36:18] Well, why do you think Republicans attend church more than Democrats? What do you think about that divide? Especially White Democrats. There seems to be this, you know, when you look at the polls at the end of a presidential election, one of the biggest gaps is, you know, if you attend church more often, you’re more likely to be Republican. If you attend church less often, you’re more likely to be a Democrat and what’s actually keeping the gap somewhat narrow it is that Black Democrats are quite religious and go to church but White Democrats, especially.
Marianne Williamson: [00:36:47] Well I think it’s a limited definition of church. To some people, their AA meeting is their church. To some people, a meditation group is their church. So I’d be real careful. That’s a pretty old-fashioned view of what it means to go to church.
Jon Favreau: [00:37:05] Are you surprised that Trump’s strongest support, maybe the demographic group that supports him more than any other in the country, are Evangelical Christians? What do you think’s going on with that?
Marianne Williamson: [00:37:16] When I was growing up, there was a potent religious left during the Vietnam War. The Berrigan Brothers, William Sloane Coffin, and also traditionally, both Catholics and Jews were very, very involved with social justice issues. What has happened in the last few decades, the Catholics got very singular on their focus on abortion and Jews became very singular on their focus on Israel and in both cases, this sucked a lot of juice out of what had formerly been a powerful religious backing for social justice and social justice reforms. After the ’60s, into the ’70s, you know, I grew up in a generation where we read Ram Dass and Alan Watts in the morning and went to political, we went to anti-war protests in the afternoon. So during that time of the ’60s and the ’70s, the issue of revolutionary cultural change was both external and internal. It was cultural, sexual, musical and it was political. After, primarily, I think due to the assassinations, there was a rip and many people took the sort of traditional political that had to do with addressing symptoms, but not necessarily cause, and a lot of that traditional political activism went back to a time when it was all the neck up and making external policy change. Then those who, and I was myself one of those, who felt a deeper calling to address the causal issues of societal dysfunction and societal repair and change, had to do with addressing internal issues. But a lot of that movement disconnected itself chronically from political activism. This was a mistake on both parts and both sides would have mutually derided the other. And those days are coming to an end and now many of the people who are dealing with traditional political change are themselves people who, they’re in therapy. They’re in AA, they go to spiritual support groups. They get it. They know that we need a more holistic and integrative approach and those who are involved in the more spiritual communities have begun to understand that you can’t use your spirituality as an excuse for narcissism and chronic self-reference. And so that has begun to change as well.
Jon Favreau: [00:39:43] I sometimes wrestle with the idea that faith and spirituality are often about acceptance and finding inner peace.
Marianne Williamson: [00:39:53] Well, I’m a Jew and that’s not where…and that’s…no, actually there is no serious spiritual or religious path anywhere that gives any of us a pass on addressing the suffering of other sentient beings.
Jon Favreau: [00:40:09] So you see it as outward.
Marianne Williamson: [00:40:11] It’s both and, it is both, and. I mean, Jesus said feed the poor?
Jon Favreau: [00:40:17] No, I believe that I just…you know politics and activism is about…
Marianne Williamson: [00:40:21] And I want to go back to clarify if I may what I said. In Judaism, there is the phrase ‘tikkun olam,’ to repair the world. And also in Judaism, one of the old rabbinical teachings is you are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you permitted to abandon it. But you could look at all the great religious systems and see they’re an injunction if interpreted that way…
Jon Favreau: [00:40:47] That the law of love is a command to change the world.
Marianne Williamson: [00:40:52] Yes. There’s a story that someone told me. I think of it as the transformation between the Good Samaritan and the conscious Samaritan. So the Good Samaritan’s walking down the road and the Good Samaritan sees a beggar and gives them alms. And then the Good Samaritan continues his journey down the road and sees another beggar and gives them alms. And then the journey continues, the Good Samaritan continues down the road and sees another beggar and gives them alms. After about the sixth or the seventh beggar, the Good Samaritan says to himself, why are there so many beggars? That’s how I feel about my own transformation over the last 20 years. It’s one thing to say to people who are in careers like my own, your job is to help people transcend difficult circumstances. I understand that. Some difficult circumstances are just a part of life, that somebody you love died, a heartbreak, you know, these things happen. You got diagnosed with an illness, your child is on heroin, whatever it is. But over the last 20 years, people like myself are being called upon to address the suffering that is too unnecessary, too many times. To address a need to navigate circumstances that simply should not be so prevalent in the richest country in the world.
Jon Favreau: [00:42:08] I guess, I’ll phrase the question a different way because I was listening to you talk to Oprah during that SuperSoul podcast and you both talked about how happiness is really finding peace, finding inner peace. And, you know, as someone who is in politics and has been in politics all my life, part of the reason that I am in a constant state of agitation is because of the world around us and everything that’s wrong in the world. And how do you as someone who’s also very spiritual and now in politics sort of navigate the tension between having that agitation about all the wrongs and injustices in the world around you and still finding that peace?
Marianne Williamson: [00:42:50] There’s a difference between happiness and joy. I’m joyful. I am deeply joyful, but I’m not happy when I see things go down that I know should not go down. Peace is a strategy. You know, Martin Luther King said you have very little morally persuasive power with people who can feel your underlying contempt. When you do the spiritual work, getting rid of judgment, seeking to dissolve personal judgment and grievance, it’s not so that you would then become…you know, sometimes people talk about spirituality like it diminishes your brain cells. It doesn’t make you less intelligent, but it makes you more strategic.