“We have it totally under control,” Donald Trump said on January 22 of the coronavirus. “It’s going to be great,” he prophesied. It wasn’t only good, but it didn’t stop Trump from adding in February, “This is going to go away. Someday – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.
The question persists: Why would he say that? Why would Trump downplay the threat of COVID-19, when (a) he knew better, and (b) Politics 101 says you should always under-promise and over-achieve? There are a myriad of plausible reasons, including fears of scaring the stock market and thus damaging its chances of re-election. Or maybe he just thought he could fake it until he succeeded – that the problem would go away on its own and he would be lucky. Or maybe he’s just a pathological liar?
Yes, but… It would be wrong to dismiss Trump’s penchant for hype as just a cunning attempt to waste us (although it is certainly a by-product). A closer look suggests that Trump believe some of the things he wishes for As Ted Cruz once observed, “He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and the lie … Whatever lie he tells, at that point he believes it.” . I would like to go further: it’s not just that Trump believes the things he says, it’s that Trump thinks that by believing them he can actualize them.
If that sounds crazy, consider her relationship with Norman Vincent Peale, the famous New York pastor and author of the mega bestseller, The power of positive thinking. As has been widely reported, Peale greatly influenced Fred Trump. This trickled down to Donald, who first married at Peale Church.
You don’t have to be a genius to see how Peale’s maxims of “Adopt the attitude ‘I don’t believe in defeat'” and “Never harbor a thought of failure” are incorporated into the remarks of Trump on everything from his inaugural coronavirus size.
Peale’s goal was not to deceive people, but to show us how to change the way we think, change our verbal confessions (the way we speak), and then change our reality. He seemed to believe it was both a psychological and a supernatural phenomenon. “When you expect the best,” Peale wrote, “you release a magnetic force in your mind which, by a law of attraction, tends to bring out the best in you.
At this point, I should probably admit that I, too, believe in the power of positive thinking. At least, provided that you are also open to an honest appreciation of objective reality. I also think it would be wrong to blame Peale for Trump’s behavior. Peale advocated many righteous instructions that Trump clearly dismissed. Indeed, Peale’s central premise is derived from Philippians 4:13: “I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me.”
Conversely, Trump thinks he can do everything with trump.
Peale also spent a lot of time warning the reader that this recipe for success won’t work unless they let go of resentment, forgive others, and even pray for them. This is an area in which Trump seems to prefer the philosophy of his longtime adviser Roger Stone, that “hate is a stronger motivator than love” and that a person should always “attack, attack, attack. Never defend. “
To be sure, Peale has long been criticized for preaching overly sunny theology that highlights the promises and rewards of the Bible while playing the role of sacrifice and suffering. But if Peale is guilty of simplifying and bastardizing Christianity, Trump has taken it to another level. That’s not to say Peale doesn’t deserve some blame. In 2015, when Trump said he didn’t ask God for forgiveness, I noted Peale New York Times obituary, in which he said he wished he could go back to his old books and “strengthen the Christian vision of repentance” expressed therein.
Either way, Trump’s penchant for insisting on alternate realities is likely informed by Peale’s teachings. And, at least part of Trump’s surprising appeal to Christians can be attributed to the fact that Trump’s ‘name it and claim it’ philosophy seems familiar to those who espouse what is often called derisively. the prosperity gospel. We’ve heard a lot about Trump’s gospel rationalizations as King David or modern King Cyrus, but I think an overlooked part of his appeal is that his rhetorical style is consistent with a movement known as the Word of Faith.
In this context, faith means believing in something that can contradict your physical senses (you don’t need faith to believe something you can see). The Bible is full of such stories. In the Old Testament, Moses sent spies to the land of Canaan to find him. The spies who returned with what Peale would call a “realistic” report on the dreaded giants occupying the land were punished for a “evil report.” Moses then sent Joshua and Caleb, who brought back a “land of milk and honey” which they said the Israelites could take immediately. These two were the only members of their generation who were allowed to enter the Promised Land.
Part of this is the belief that doing the miraculous requires (and inspires) positive confessions (and vice versa). God said, “Let there be light.” Jesus spoke to a fig tree and told it to dry up. Among the Romans, we are told of “God, who … calls those things which are not as if they were”. In Mark 11:23, we are told that a person can move a mountain, and that if he “believes that the things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says”.
The following verse is also important: “What you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” Other translations use “receipt”. Either way, it is important to note that believing that you have received is done in the present or past tense, not the future.
My take? Faith and positivity are admirable attributes that can move mountains, but faith without works is dead. You have to do the job. You can pray for a sick friend, but also make sure she takes her medicine. Doing the latter does not undermine your faith in the former. In other words, we must “pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you”.
If Trump had followed this advice on COVID-19, this column would be useless. But rather than pray, Trump is chatting on TV. Rather than believing that the Almighty will work miracles according to His plan, Trump believes that he can make them exist before the next elections. And the truth is that by winning what appeared to be a miraculous election in 2016, Trump convinced many Christians that he could do just that.
In The power of positive thinking, Peale writes about a business executive he knows who follows these same principles. Peale says this man “seems to have a magical touch on life – a touch that never fails.” Seems familiar?
If Donald Trump somehow pulls off another miracle on November 3, we’ll know the magic touch still works.
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