As the novel coronavirus has spread across the globe, President Trump has repeated one phrase like a mantra: It will go away.Since February Trump has said the virus will “go away” at least 15 times, most recently on May 15.“It’s going to disappear one day,” he said on February 27. “It’s like a miracle.”Invoking a miracle is an understandable response during a pandemic, but to some, the President’s insistence that the coronavirus will simply vanish sounds dangerously like magical thinking — the popular but baffling idea that we can mold the world to our liking, reality be damned.The coronavirus, despite Trump’s predictions, has not disappeared. It has spread rapidly, killing more than 90,000 Americans.In that light, Trump’s response to the pandemic, his fulsome self-praise and downplaying of mass death seems contrary to reality. But long ago, his biographers say, Trump learned how to craft his own version of reality, a lesson he learned in an unlikely place: a church.It’s called the “power of positive thinking,” and Trump heard it from the master himself: the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, a Manhattan pastor who became a self-help juggernaut, the Joel Osteen of the 1950s.“He thought I was his greatest student of all time,” Trump has said.Undoubtedly, the power of positive thinking has taken Trump a long way — through multiple business failures to the most powerful office in the world.Trump has repeatedly credited Peale — who died in 1993 — and positive thinking with helping him through rough patches.“I refused to be sucked into negative thinking on any level, even when the indications weren’t great,” Trump said of the early 1990s, when his casinos were tanking and he owed creditors billions of dollars.But during a global public health crisis there can be a negative side to positive thinking.“Trump pretending that this pandemic will just go away is not just an unacceptable fantasy,” said Christopher Lane, author of “Surge of Piety: Norman Vincent Peale and the Remaking of American Religious Life.”“It is in the realm of dangerous delusion.”
Trump says Peale has made him feel better about himselfThough they were professed Presbyterians, it’s more accurate to call Trump’s family Peale-ites.On Sundays, Trump’s businessman father drove the family from Queens to Peale’s pulpit at Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan.The centuries-old edifice was, and remains, the closest thing Trump has to a family church. Funerals for both of his parents were held there, and Peale presided over Trump’s marriage to Ivana at Marble Collegiate in 1977. Two of his siblings were also married in the sanctuary.The draw, Trump’s biographers say, was Peale, who elevated businessmen like the Trumps to saint-like status as crusaders of American capitalism.Known as “God’s Salesman,” Peale wrote many self-help books, including “The Power of Positive Thinking,” that sold millions of copies.Peale drew throngs of followers, but also sharp criticism from Christians who accused him of cherry-picking Bible verses and peddling simplistic solutions.But the young Donald Trump was hooked.“He would instill a very positive feeling about God that also made me feel positive about myself,” Trump writes in “Great Again,” one of his books. “I would literally leave that church feeling like I could listen to another three sermons.”Peale peppered his sermons with pop psychology. Sin and guilt were jettisoned in favor of “spirit-lifters,” “energy-producing thoughts” and “7 simple steps” to happy living.“Attitudes are more important than facts,” Peale preached, a virtual prophecy of our post-truth age.“Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” Peale writes in “The Power of Positive Thinking.”“Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade.”
Peale has also influenced Trump’s spiritual advisersTo this day, Trump surrounds himself with Peale-like figures, particularly prosperity gospel preachers.One of his closest spiritual confidantes, Florida pastor Paula White, leads the White House’s faith-based office and is a spiritual descendent of Peale’s positive thinking — with a Pentecostal twist.White, a televangelist, belongs to the Word of Faith movement, which teaches that God bestows health and wealth on true believers.In a Rose Garden ceremony for the National Day of Prayer earlier this month, White quoted from the Bible’s Book of Job: “If you decree and declare a thing, it will be established.”“I declare no more delays to the deliverance of Covid-19,” White continued. “No more delays to healing and a vaccination.”The Book of Job, a parable of human suffering and powerlessness, may be a strange book for a preacher to cite while “declaring” an end to the pandemic. If it were so easy, Job’s story would involve fewer boils and tortures.But in a way, White perfectly captures the problem with positive thinking: It tries to twist every situation into a “victory,” even when reality demonstrates otherwise.“Positive thinking can help people focus on goals and affirm one’s merits,” said Lane, author of the book on Peale. “But it does need a reality check, and to be based in fact.”Sometimes, the reality is that you’ve failed and need to change course. But to Peale, that wasn’t an option. Even self-doubt was a sin, he taught, an affront to God.“He had a huge problem with failure,” Lane said. “He would berate people for even talking about it.”
Peale’s teachings can explain why Trump won’t accept criticismYou can hear echoes of Peale’s no-fail philosophy in Trump’s angry response to reporters’ questions about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, said Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio.“Nothing is an exchange of ideas or discussion of facts,” D’Antonio said. “Everything is a life or death struggle for the definition of reality. For him, being wrong feels like being obliterated.”And that’s one reason why the President refuses to accept any criticism or admit to any failure. To do so would puncture his bubble of positivity, not to mention his self-image.So, despite his administration’s early missteps in preparing for and responding to the coronavirus, Trump won’t acknowledge any errors.Instead, he has misled the public, claiming in February that the situation was “under control” when it was not; promising a vaccine is coming “very soon,” which it is not; and falsely insisting that “anyone can get tested,” when they could not and many still cannot.Still, when asked in mid-March to grade his administration’s response, Trump gave himself a perfect score.“I’d rate it a 10,” he said. “I think we’ve done a great job.”Trump’s self-appraisal might not match reality. But Peale would be proud.
Why Donald Trump’s biggest Christian champions love him so much.
Observers have characterized evangelical support for President Trump as reluctant yet highly durable. But this depiction ignores Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians who, from the beginning, have been largely enthusiastic Trump supporters.
Sixty-one percent of Pentecostal pastors surveyed in 2016 planned to vote for Trump, and they are a force on Trump’s “evangelical advisory board.” And notably, the Pentecostal-Charismatic media consistently gives the president favorable coverage. Unlike the evangelicals who see Trump as a necessary, but distasteful, conduit for their policy preferences, sincere theological conviction drives many Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians to see the president as a prophetically foretold leader.
.. he uncannily demonstrates deep affinities with certain Pentecostal-Charismatic subcultures. Here are five historic subcultures and theologies that explain why some Pentecostal-Charismatics proudly support Trump.
1. Pentecostal-Charismatic celebrity culture
Trump has cultivated support among Pentecostal-Charismatic celebrities such as Jim Bakker, Paula White and Mark Burns, who, like the president, are media moguls with scandalous histories. These televangelists attain authority as Pentecostal-Charismatic leaders through celebrity culture over (and in some cases, against) traditional qualifications for the ministry, such as ordination or seminary education.
.. the general public historically viewed tongue-speaking, emotive Pentecostals — who burst onto the 20th century American religious scene with a black leader (William J. Seymour), interracial services and female preachers — as delusional or even dangerous.
.. as the movement grew, presidents seemingly warmed up to Pentecostal-Charismatics — even the televangelists. Televangelist Oral Roberts met with Kennedy, Nixon and Carter; in 1985, Ronald Reagan gave a very friendly interview to Charismatic Baptist media mogul Pat Robertson.
.. Trump’s invitation to Charismatic televangelist Paula White to deliver an inaugural prayer alongside evangelical legacy Franklin Graham — a role traditionally performed by respectable religious leaders from mainstream and mainline religious organizations — reflects the changing terms of politics and religion in the U.S. It is a cultural coup to promote White, seen in more traditional evangelical quarters as a “heretic” and “charlatan,” into these honorable ranks.
.. 2. Prosperity
Engaging with devotees of the “prosperity gospel” — whose believers celebrate overt displays of wealth as clear signs of God’s favor (see: the cast of Preachers of LA) — makes sense for the wealthy, celebrity-friendly Trump. His prosperity theology, coupled with his unabashed embodiment of conspicuous consumption, resonates with Pentecostal-Charismatics, who are leading creators and purveyorsof this much-maligned theology.
.. 3. Lowbrow know-how
Pentecostal-Charismatics hail from a long line of anti-institutionalists.
.. Some present-day Pentecostals perpetuate this anti-authoritarian stance, preferring (by wide margins) common sense to intellectual know-how, and viewing cultural elites with deep suspicion and antipathy. Trump’s repeated rejection of scientific consensus regarding climate change and his rowdy approach to foreign policy resonate with Pentecostal-Charismatics. In their view, educated elites don’t faithfully describe the world as Pentecostal-Charismatics know it, and those elites sure don’t know how to fix it.
Like many evangelicals, especially those who identify as fundamentalist, Pentecostal-Charismatics have been steadfast, passionate supporters of Israel, an integral part of their beliefs about “the end times.”
.. Trump’s moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, therefore, is not just fulfilling a campaign promise; to many Pentecostal-Charismatics, it’s fulfilling God’s plan for the end of days. The value of this move can’t be overstated, because it confirms and gives physical reality to Pentecostals’ mystical perceptions of Trump as more potentate than president — a ruler in the order of the biblical kings of Israel.
.. 5. Monarchy
.. For Pentecostals, how America’s democratic government works in tandem with God’s monarchy isn’t always clear. But for most, “the people” don’t ultimately decide the fate of the United States or the world. God decides the future and “brings it to pass” through his own means.
.. When he disregards conventional wisdom, they see someone who, like themselves, goes against a coercive mainstream intellectual grain. When he supports Israel, they see a king, however flawed, and an instrument for the purposes of God. When he moves his embassy to Jerusalem, they see verification of their sacred narrative.
.. When Pentecostal-Charismatic advisers to Trump talk about their role in this divine drama, it is as godly intercessors on the president’s behalf.
From this vantage point, it hardly matters whether Trump behaves morally, won the popular vote or even colluded with Russia. Trump is not just a leader selected by the people: he is an intervention — God’s anointed, divinely elevated ruler. Actually, the sheer unlikeliness of Trump’s win fits the Pentecostal-Charismatic imagination for miraculous intervention, and moves Trump far above the reach of critique.
The famous televangelist Jim Bakker, who is preaching again on television after a rape accusation and a prison term for financial fraud, recently warned that Christians would start an armed insurrection if President Trump were impeached. “If it happens, there will be civil war in the United States of America,” Bakker told his television audience. “The Christians will finally come out of the shadows, because we are going to be shut up permanently if we’re not careful.”
.. In polls, white evangelicals went from the group most likely to say that personal morality mattered in politics to the group least likely to say that — in just five years. These are values voters?”
.. Bakker: “But God, you put Trump in power! So many evangelical leaders, like Robert Jeffress, have pointed out that Trump could have been elected only if that was your doing.”
Bakker: “Pastor Paula White said the other day on my television show that since Trump’s presidency is God’s will, opposition to Trump amounts to resisting ‘the hand of God.’ ”
God: “Hmm. Did she say that when Barack Obama was serving two terms?”
And Trump and White share personal track records — divorce, bankruptcy, embracing views outside of the Republican and evangelical mainstreams — that raise hackles among the influential Christian leaders Trump needs on his team as he seeks to consolidate the Republican base.
.. White tells stories of walking up Fifth Avenue in New York with Trump and watching the real estate mogul cross the street to shake hands with construction workers. And there was the time he was showing her a new golf course in California and got out of the golf cart to thank a Latino man who was taking care of his sand traps. White, who still owns a unit at a Trump property in New York, said his employees at his buildings were loyal to him.
To her, this serves as evidence that the cussing, controversial Trump is ultimately a man of God.
White is aiming to line up endorsements, ready to offer stories of Trump’s kindnesses behind the scenes. She was central to establishing Trump’s evangelical advisory board, which includes several pillars of the traditionally powerful religious right, such as James Dobson and Jerry Falwell Jr. And some members of the board, like pastor Mark Burns, a vocal Trump surrogate, have developed a fierce loyalty to White.
.. But her ability to convince the evangelical world that Trump is a man of faith is impeded by the man himself. Trump has bragged about his sexual conquests, says he’s never asked God for forgiveness, struggles to cite Bible verses (“two Corinthians”) and has waffled on abortion and marriage. What’s more, White is seen as an imperfect messenger for an already deeply flawed candidate.
.. But like Trump, she has a track record of talking about money — a lot — and that rubs some in the evangelical establishment the wrong way. In one televised sit-down with Trump, White asked him about “those life lessons that really caused you to succeed financially today.” Trump pointed to his father, a workaholic who was passionate about his career.
“That’s the principle I teach,” White responded. “Find your passion in life and figure out a way to make money.”