Almost everyone in the national news media hated Donald Trump from the moment he declared his candidacy in 2015. Ever since, they’ve perpetuated a narrative that he ran a “negative” campaign with a “dark” message that spoke to the “anxieties” of the white working class.
Ross Douthat at the New York Times microwaved this tale on Tuesday, contrasting Trump with Democratic presidential candidate and celebrity spiritual guide Marianne Williamson:
The truth is that Williamson doesn’t really contrast with Trump at all, because much of her career is based on the same thing as his: Feel-good, self-help life coaching. Trump’s version of it just happened to translate better into politics than Williamson’s.
The power of Trump’s campaign wasn’t that it spoke to an “underground” voter, a term that imagines his supporters as a bunch of Morlocks who only just crawled in to the sunlight. The power of his campaign was its aspirational nature, which, incidentally, is exactly what Williamson is appealing to among Democrats.
At the first Democratic debate two weeks ago, she said her first issue as president was to make America “the best place in the world for a child to grow up.” She harkened to a vague sense of time when politics “included the people, and included imagination, and included great dreams, and included great plans.” (You might say she wanted to “make America great again.”)
And when she closed, Williamson said she would defeat Trump by “harness[ing] love for political purposes.”
She’s drawing on her years of work as a motivational speaker and life coach for celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and hoping it catches fire in politics.
Trump showed that it can. The Art of the Deal is, contrary to mass perception, not a biography. It’s a self-help book, full of quotes like these:
- “People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do”
- “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after”
- “[M]uch more often than you’d think, sheer persistence is the difference between success and failure.”
Self-help and motivation has been part of Trump his whole life. He grew up attending Marble Collegiate Church in New York. The head pastor was Norman Vincent Peale, the author of the bestselling Power of Positive Thinking book. Peale was known for saying things like, “Think big, and you’ll achieve big results. Think success, and you’ll have success.”
The underlying concept of NBC’s rat-race reality show The Apprentice was that if Trump could become a multi-billionaire, you could, too — if you listen to Trump.
Justifying her standing in the race, Williamson said during the debate that she has “had a career harnessing the inspiration and the motivation and the excitement of people, masses of people.”
At one of the Republican primary debates in early 2016, Trump more or less said the same thing about why his own lifestyle fit in the race. “My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy,” he said. “I’ve grabbed all the money I could get. I’m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States.”
The real difference between Williamson and Trump is that while he has been active in national politics since the 1980s, she’s brand new. It’s not that she’s sunnier than him. It’s that she’s greener. Williamson probably can’t do what Trump did. But they’re remarkably similar in their approach.