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The Self-Help Guru Who Shaped Trump’s Worldview

December 22, 2017 in Blogs

By Chris Lehmann, In These Times

How the commander-in-chief succumbs to the perils of positive thinking.

Taking stock of the first official year of Trump in power means withstanding a multifront assault on reality. Presented in a relentless barrage of Make America Great Again hyperbole, the president’s crushing failures are magically transformed into unprecedented successes, and all expressions of dissent become the work of petty ingrates, ideological fabulists and privileged elites. His signature initiatives—the shameful tax bill and the mercifully stalled Obamacare repeal—become historic windfalls for the very middle- and working-class constituencies they deliberately set out to beggar, to say nothing of how Trump and his apparatchiks have disfigured basic and hitherto settled facts of history, such as the notion that the Civil War was fought over slavery.

At one level, these mind-bending pronouncements are the rancid fruits of a concerted assault on basic categories of meaning and signification. To the scattered forces of the anti-Trump resistance, the ongoing appeal of such bald lying is dumbfounding: Shouldn’t the truth win out—or at least count for something? But such befuddlement stems mainly from a key element of the Trump phenomenon, one that lies firmly outside their cultural frame of reference. Trumpism has taken root in our public discourse because it is squarely in the mainstream of American spiritual life. It is the most extreme, and perversely logical, application of the positive-thinking gospel.

In the president’s biography and business career, the role of positive thinking is hiding in plain sight. From childhood on, Trump worshipped in the temple of the movement’s prophet, Norman Vincent Peale: Manhattan’s Marble Collegiate Church. Indeed, Peale presided over Trump’s first wedding in 1977. Trump’s father was a die-hard adherent of Peale’s preachments, as is his daughter Ivanka, who wrote in her 2009 self-help tract, The Trump Card, that “perception is more important than reality” and you shouldn’t “go out of your way to correct a false assumption if it plays to your advantage.”

Peale’s midcentury self-help bible, The Power of Positive Thinking, is, at its core, a distillation of the message of the Christian faith into a series of achievement-minded axioms. “Picturize, prayerize, actualize” was Peale’s mantra, and …read more


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