I don’t want you to read more into this post because it was written on Inauguration Day. I am simply shining a light on how positive and negative thinking were used together to get Donald Trump elected. My only concern is for the country and the planet. If President Trump can actually achieve a strong & stable economy (no bubble), and respect the rights of people to believe and act as they do – without harming others, of course – I will probably vote for him in four years. I am skeptical of his promises, but he has certainly surprised us many times in the last year.
The Power of Positive Thinking was written by Norman Vincent Peale and first published in 1952. He was the longtime pastor at the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, the church Donald Trump’s family attended during his formative years. Rev. Peale’s message during sermons and in his famous book is that you can achieve incredible things if you harness the power of positive thinking. Today, it would be known as a prosperity gospel.
We can see this in the transcript from one of Rev. Peale’s radio shows in the late 1960s. “Once you’ve determined your goals, paint a mental picture of yourself achieving them. Hold that picture of success before you at all times. Concentrate on it, and it will materialize.” Or another example. “See yourself not failing, but succeeding. Believe in yourself, in your capacity, in your ability to get good results, and your supply of confidence will become equal to your responsibilities. Confident thinking gets positive results.” (Both of these examples come from a story on yesterday’s All Things Considered from NPR: http://www.npr.org/2017/01/19/510628862/how-positive-thinking-helped-propel-trump-to-the-presidency.)
There is no doubt that Mr. Trump follows this way of thinking. It wasn’t until I heard the NPR story, however, that I could make sense of some of his supporters’ beliefs. When I hear a Trump statement that I know to be untrue, or at least a gross exaggeration, I think, “How can anyone believe what he says when he tells such lies?” But his supporters are swayed by two things:
- Donald Trump speaks with such authority that many of his supporters accept his statements as fact and any information to the contrary is deemed fake news.
- The power of positive thinking and the power of negative thinking work together to solidify Mr. Trump’s image as savior.
By “the power of negative thinking” I mean that many Americans have been convinced things are horrible in the country. I look at the numbers and disagree. Here are some of the changes that took place during President Obama’s time in office:
- The unemployment rate dropped by 40% (from 7.8% in Jan. 2009 to 4.7% Dec. 2016).
- S&P 500 is up by 144% – that’s an average stock market return of 18% per year.
- Gross domestic product (GDP) is up from -3.5% in Q1 2009 to +1.7% in Q3 2016.
- Federal deficit as % of GDP down 23% (from 3.1% in 2008 to 2.4% in 2015).
- Hourly wage growth spent most of 2010 below 2% but it is now 2.9%.
- The percentage of Americans without health insurance dropped by 43% (from 15.1% in 2008 to 8.6% in Q1 2016).
So Donald Trump, the conservative media and most Republican leaders harnessed the power of negative thinking to convince the voters that the country is in worse shape than it appears to be. I know life can be very difficult in rural communities and that is a big reason why sparsely populated counties always vote overwhelmingly for Republicans (that, and for religious reasons).
People who live in rural areas may still owe more on their houses than they are worth because most real estate gains have happened in cities. The Affordable Care Act will offer fewer options in rural communities because health insurers are not very eager to compete for relatively few customers – they would rather beef up their efforts in cities. And rural communities have a higher percentage of white voters, and some of the other numbers from Obama’s term help explain the strong support for Mr. Trump.
- Women’s earnings as share of whites’: +3.6%.
- Black workers’ earnings as share of whites’: +0.8%.
- Hispanic workers’ earnings as share of whites’: +1.1%.
- Asian workers’ earnings as share of whites’: +3.6%.
So it is true that Mr. Trump’s staunchest supporters, white men, are losing ground. When every other demographics’ earnings are increasing versus your own, you are dropping behind. Well, not really. Only the average Asian worker makes more than the average white worker – everyone else makes considerably less, but the trend is there.
So, Donald Trump’s belief in the power of positive thinking convinced him that he could win the Republican nomination and the presidency. It certainly worked for him. The fact that the Russians intervened in the process, or that the Clinton campaign made mistakes in their execution isn’t important. Mr. Trump believed he could do it and it came true.
While Donald Trump used the power to positive thinking, one of his greatest tools toward his goal was the power of negative thinking. He convinced enough people that things are horrible in the country. He convinced them that free trade agreements and illegal immigration cost them the good jobs. He convinced them that the political establishment acted only in their own best interests, and didn’t care about the people at all. In other words, your life is horrible, it’s the politicians’ fault, and only I can fix things. True genius – and almost no one recognized what was happening.
Congratulations, President Trump. I’m eager to see what happens next because we are now in uncharted waters.