The religious roots of Trump’s magical thinking on coronavirus

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.
Norman Vincent Peale wrote the bestselling 1952 self-help book, "The Power of Positive Thinking." It sold millions of copies.

“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 himself

Though 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.
From left to right, Donald Trump, Ivana Trump, Ruth Peale and Dr. Norman V. Peale at Peale's 90th birthday party in 1988.

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 advisers

To 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.”
Paula White, a televangelist and religious adviser to President Trump.

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 criticism

You 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.”
President Donald Trump answers questions with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on April 3, 2020 in Washington.

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.

The ‘genius’ of Trump: What the president means when he touts his smarts

The genius in the White House has always believed that what makes him special is his ability to get things done without going through the steps others must take.

In school, he bragged that he’d do well without cracking a book. As a young real estate developer, his junior executives recalled, he skipped the studying and winged his way through meetings with politicians, bankers and union bosses. And as a novice politician, he scoffed at the notion that he might suffer from any lack of experience or knowledge.

.. doubled down on his belief that smashing conventions is the path to success but underscored his lifelong conviction that he wins when he’s the center of attention.

.. “To go into those campaign rallies with just a few notes and connect with people he wasn’t at all like, that takes a certain genius. His genius is he’ll say anything to connect with people. He won by telling the rally crowds that the people who didn’t like them also didn’t like him.”

.. familiar tactics: a bold, even brazen, drive to put on a show and make himself the star.

..  he tweeted that he did use “tough” language — a long-standing point of pride for the president, whose political ascent was fueled by his argument that, as a billionaire, he is liberated to say what some other Americans only think.

.. “He needed to be stroked all the time and told how smart he was,”

..  The way we got things done was to approach him with an idea and make him think it was his. It was so easy.”

.. “Donald was always a forest person; he never knew anything about the trees. He knew concrete was brought in on trucks, but he really didn’t know how to run a project. What he had was street smarts — good instincts about people.”

.. he has always encouraged people around him to view him as someone who could see things that others could not.

.. “He means, okay, he didn’t hit the brains lottery, but he’s brilliant and cunning in the way he operates. He’s amazing at taking the temperature of the room and knowing how to appease everyone. You want that kind of instinct in your quarterbacks, in your generals. It’s not what we’ve ever thought of as what makes a great president, but he’s never going to be the guy who makes great speeches. This is who he is.”

.. Being something of a genius was central to Trump’s self-image
.. Everyone around him learned to cater to that — even his father
.. In the first major newspaper profile of Trump, in the New York Times in 1976, his father, Fred Trump, describes his son as “the smartest person I know.”
.. Throughout his life, Trump has believed that his instincts and street smarts positioned him to succeed where others might struggle.
.. His father often told Trump that “you are a king,” instructing him to “be a killer.”
.. Fred Trump was a student of Dale Carnegie
.. and an acolyte of Norman Vincent Peale .. who preached a gospel of positive thinking.
.. “I know in my gut,” he said in an interview last year. “I know in 30 seconds what the right move is.”
.. “He can’t collaborate with anybody because he doesn’t listen to anybody,”
.. “He doesn’t trust anybody, except his family. That’s why [his former wife] Ivana was involved in everything and why now his children are too.”
.. also believed he had something more: a genius for showmanship, a knack for surrounding himself with the trappings of success, thereby creating the perception that he was uniquely capable of big, bold action.
.. Genius and ego were both essential elements of success on a grand scale, Trump said
.. every great person, including Jesus and Mother Teresa, found the path to success via ego:
.. In Trump’s vocabulary, “genius” is perhaps the highest praise, and it refers to a street-level ability to get things done.
.. Trump often referred to his lawyer and early mentor Roy Cohn as “a total genius” or a “political genius,” even if he was also “a lousy lawyer.”
.. Trump explained in one of his books that his own true “genius” was for public relations: Rather than spending money on advertising, he said, he put his efforts toward winning news coverage of himself as a “genius.”
.. Trump has also had moments of extreme self-doubt. Biographer Harry Hurt described a period around 1990 when, as his marriage to Ivana Trump was breaking up, he occasionally spoke about suicide

 

The True Self Says YES/ The False Self Prefers NO

The great wisdom teachers and mystics say in various ways that you cannot truly see or understand anything if you begin with a no. You have to start with a yes of basic acceptance, which means you do not too quickly label, analyze, or categorize things as good or bad. The ego or false self strengthens itself by constriction, by being against, or by re-action; it feels loss or fear when it opens up to subtlety, growth, change, and Mystery. Living out of the True Self involves positive choice, inner spaciousness, and conscious understanding rather than resistance, knee-jerk reactions, or defensiveness.

.. Compassion and mercy come easily once you live inside the Big Body of Love. The detours of the false self were all just delaying tactics, bumps in the road, pressure points that created something new in the long run, as pressure does to carbon deep beneath the earth.

The diamond of love will always be stronger than death. Diamonds, once soft black carbon, become beautiful and radiant white lightning under pressure. The true pattern, the big secret, has now been revealed and exposed, “like a treasure hidden in a field” (Matthew 13:44). You did not find the Great Love except by finding yourself too, and you cannot find your True Self without falling into the Great Love.

Turning Negative Thinkers Into Positive Ones

Most mornings as I leave the Y after my swim and shower, I cross paths with a coterie of toddlers entering with their caregivers for a kid-oriented activity. I can’t resist saying hello, requesting a high-five, and wishing them a fun time. I leave the Y grinning from ear to ear, uplifted not just by my own workout but even more so by my interaction with these darling representatives of the next generation.

What a great way to start the day!

.. the extent to which we can generate positive emotions from even everyday activities can determine who flourishes and who doesn’t.

More than a sudden bonanza of good fortune, repeated brief moments of positive feelings can provide a buffer against stress and depression

.. as little as two weeks’ training in compassion and kindness meditation generated changes in brain circuitry linked to an increase in positive social behaviors like generosity.