“The tradition has been in every new administration to set aside past allegations of criminal behavior by the previous administration, whether it was torture that was illegal, or the Iran-Contra case, it has been set aside. Donald Trump is setting up bad karma for himself and the people around him, because one day there will be a Democratic administration, and the constraints against investigating criminal behavior by the previous administration, absent any compelling reason, will be gone. And it will be thanks to him.”
-Joe Conason, author of The Hunting of the President (during an AM Joy segment:
DOJ investigating Clinton emails, Clinton foundation)
Years ago in the late 1990s, I bought one of Scott Adams’ books, “The Dilbert Future”. I’d long been a Dilbert fan and the cartoon strip’s cynical view of office life, in part because the problems that Adams lampooned were often ubiquitous, and even more often ignored by people who went into management. At times, the engineering side of me would look at these problems and try to imagine solutions. Too much of the time, the solutions failed, but the resulting analysis of them could be almost as amusing as Adams’ original work.
“The Dilbert Future” certainly entertained me, but his usual material about mismanagement that he expounded upon in his narrative wasn’t the most memorable thing that I recall about the book. No, the part I recall about the book came at the end. In his final passage, he advised his readers that he was a firm believer in the use of affirmations to achieve goals. He promised that if you wrote down your goal 15 times a day, and visualizing achieving it, you would see your goal achieved as if by magic. For a cynical cartoonist, this seemed, well, unexpected.
To my spiritual side, this actually didn’t seem too far-fetched. Atheists constantly talk down religious faith and the power of prayer, saying that it’s silly to believe that an imaginary being in the sky will come down and change everything just for you because you asked for it, but the reality is that it occasionally works. There is no proof that there is a God, that there is a universal spirit that created everything and directs everything, but it’s commonly accepted (or so it was at the time I went through Marine Corps boot camp) that in times of war, those who enter the battlefield espousing a belief, any belief, typically turn out better than those whose faith is challenged or possibly non-existent. In any battle or contest where oblivion is threatened, prayer and a belief in God helps, if only to find the calm a person needs to get through it, or to concentrate that person on overcoming the difficulties being faced.
This isn’t a validation of religion or a suggestion that members of any particular sect are superior to those who don’t believe, it is merely to say that prayer and good thoughts – affirmations – do seem to make difficult situations better. Miracles do happen to those who don’t give up, who keep the faith. This idea is an incredibly non-cynical concept, which is why Adams’ advice to use affirmations to achieve your goals still sticks with me today.
Of course, Dilbert’s creator wasn’t the first to come up with this concept. Clearly, if there ever was a title of “Godfather of Positive Thinking”, it definitely belongs to Norman Vincent Peale, the 1952 author of “The Power of Positive Thinking”. Decades before Adams emerged as a popular cartoonist, Rev. Peale advanced his ideas on the use of affirmations while preaching as the Dutch Reformed pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church near Madison Square Park in Manhattan.
It’s notable that Rev. Peale played an important role in the spiritual development of current US President Donald Trump. He even officiated at his (first) marriage to former model Ivana Zelnickova in April 1977. Peale’s message, which has been criticized at times as being part con-artistry and part self-hypnosis, worked quite well with Trump’s eventual approach to business. It probably helped him early on when he faced the overwhelming shock of losing his three most important casino executives in a helicopter crash in April 1989 (sometimes this event is attributed to as a cause for the six eventual bankruptcies of Trump Entertainment Resorts, the first of which took place in 1991). It probably gave him strength when business idea after business idea failed in the years that followed. No doubt, the Reverend remained a strong influence in Trump’s life well past the time of Peale’s death, Christmas Eve 1993.
For me, it’s hard to ignore the whole Positive Thinking element when listening to the many untruths told by President Trump over the course of his presidential campaign and administration. When looking at his business challenges while trying to build The Trump Organization, a real estate business he inherited in 1971, one can’t help but be amazed at his persistence. His practice of “counterpunching”, or aggressively responding to detractors, while “admitting nothing”, or declaring his losses to be victories, sometimes appears to be a variation on Peale’s theme that you can create your own reality. I tend to think that if Peale hadn’t been in his life, Trump might never have found the ambition to be anything more than a slum lord.
Of course, Trump has found a populist path to the top of the American political scene. He successfully took advantage of the deterioration of American politics under the corrosive influence of political contributions, disruptive influences injected into American social media by enemies of the American idea – both foreign and domestic, and a horrific mix of political incompetence and selfishness that took hold of the Democratic Party in the last election. As a result, Trump today continues to carry out campaign promises to “shake things up” – such things as American efforts to contain its global rivals, societal efforts to staunch the flow of resources into useless accumulations of wealth held by the world’s richest people, and global collaborations aimed at halting in the last moment irreversible anthropomorphic climate change.
When the history books about these times are finally written, I think Trump will prove to be an interesting study in the use of affirmations. Specifically, I anticipate that the big lesson, still as yet not completely written, will be about whether affirmations can overcome karma. Personally, I’d like to see the world be a place where balance does exist – where if you continuously visit evil on others, evil will inevitably come to visit you. Maybe that’s my contrition-filled Catholic background coming back to haunt me. Hard to say.
But if that doesn’t occur naturally (and, to be completely honest with myself, there is no reason to believe that it will), then it may come to the point where those of us who do feel that it should will need to assert our own affirmations, those that focus our visions on the type of world we want to see. Perhaps that point in time is now.