Is Donald Trump America’s First New Thought President?
An Interview with New Dawn Magazine
“Behold! these be grave mysteries; for there are also of my friends who be hermits. Now think not to find them in the forest or on the mountain; but in beds of purple, caressed by magnificent beasts of women with large limbs, and fire and light in their eyes, and masses of flaming hair about them; there shall ye find them.” (from The Book of the Law [II: 24], received by Aleister Crowley in Egypt, 1904)
When I think of Norman Vincent Peale and the influence of New Thought on Donald Trump, my mind turns immediately to Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). A British occultist whose life span was contemporaneous with the heyday of New Thought, Crowley suffered no confusion between biblical and magical principles. He was deeply versed in the worldwide Mystery Traditions from Mongolia to Manhattan. A prolific author, the Introduction to his masterpiece Magick: In Theory and Practice lays out a series of scientific statements that make absolutely clear the ideas he is expounding—namely the centrality of thought and intention in the practical affairs of everyday life.
Crowley begins, “MAGICK is for ALL. I have written this book to help the Banker, the Pugilist, the Biologist, the Poet, the Navvy, the Grocer, the Factory Girl, the Mathematician, the Stenographer, the Golfer, the Wife, the Consul—and all the rest—to fulfill themselves perfectly, each in his or her own proper function.”
I would suggest Donald Trump to be the embodiment of Crowley’s fondest thought: iconoclastic, improbable, a revolutionary, and, perhaps most of all, successful. Crowley states, “A Man who is doing his True Will has the inertia of the Universe to assist him.” How unexpected Trump’s victory by every known metric, especially those of his opponents!
Crowley defined Magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” He explained his choice of the word “Magick” to define his philosophy as “essentially the most sublime, and actually the most discredited, of all the available terms.” Trump made a similar bold move with his use of the term “America First.” Think of the members of the “international community,” those who have for so long enjoyed American administration after administration acting as if their guiding philosophy of “America Last” is enshrined as a sacred value in the US Constitution. Yet, Theresa May—and Brexit—are making it clear that Britain is contemplating what might be called “England First.” I wonder if Prime Minister Turnbull could be thinking “Australia First.” Trump said in his inaugural, “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.” National self-interest. Politicians seeking to benefit their own constituencies. What a concept!
I write these words as President Trump has spent his first week undoing the overreaching executive orders by which his predecessor sought to fundamentally “transform” America through what he called “hope and change.” (All that gentleman would have needed to succeed was a Hillary Clinton or a Jeb Bush to follow him—the one an acolyte and co-conspirator, the other far too “polite” to stir the cauldron or rock the boat.)
Crowley writes, “A nation must become aware of its own character before it can be said to exist. From that knowledge it must divine its destiny. It must then consider the political conditions of the world; how other countries may help it or hinder it. It must then destroy in itself any elements discordant with its destiny.”
I believe President Trump is answering that call.
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NEW DAWN: US presidents have long spoken of their religious faith. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush referred to the Bible and openly identified with Evangelical Christianity. Even Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate in last November’s election, made no secret of her commitment to the ‘Social Gospel’ of Protestant Christianity stating, “I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. I am a Methodist.”
America’s 45th president Donald J. Trump is different from both his predecessors and his Democrat opponent. President Trump has spoken of attending the New York City congregation of the Reverend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. A dynamic preacher and author, Rev. Peale has been called ‘one of the 20th century’s most powerful figures’ and the ‘father of Positive-Thinking’. “I still remember his sermons,” Trump said in July 2015. “It was unbelievable. And what he would do is he would bring real-life situations, modern day situations into the sermon. And you could listen to him all day long. When you left the church, you were disappointed that it was over. He was the greatest guy.”
Who was Norman Vincent Peale, the maverick Christian pastor who inspired Donald Trump and what did he teach? The man the new US president describes as “one of the greatest speakers” he’d ever seen.
JW: Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993) was the long-lived author of the classic The Power of Positive Thinking, first published in 1952. He was the foremost voice for what might be called Christian New Thought, having interwoven the idea of biblical faith with “the right to happiness.” This is a uniquely American appreciation of man’s place in the grand cosmic scheme, what Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) identified in the Declaration of Independence as the unalienable right to the “the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson stated we were endowed with that right by our Creator—allowing for no equivocation as to the legitimacy of the source of happiness. Jefferson further suggested that the duty of the State is to protect the Natural Rights of the People.
Peale must have been an appealing figure because he took over a ramshackle church in New York City, the Marble Collegiate Church on 5th Avenue and 29th Street in 1932, during the Great Depression, and turned it into one of the most successful ministries in the city, America, and the world. He made extensive use of the media of the day: including radio, TV, magazines, pamphlets, and books. New Thought scholar Mitch Horowitz calls Peale the founder of “the most influential self-help philosophy of the twentieth century.”
How does Rev. Peale’s philosophy of ‘positive-thinking’ differ from both ‘born-again’ Evangelical Christianity and the ‘social gospel’ of liberal Protestants?
JW: Peale was unapologetically both a Bible-based Christian and a political conservative. An American patriot, he supported the Republican Party and many of its candidates, being quite the Manhattan renegade for that!
Evangelical Christianity is more accepting of pain and punishment as a corrective for the imperfection of Creation, the world as the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the scene of the Trials and Tribulations of Life through which the soul of the religious aspirant must pass in its way to Perfection in the Afterlife, God’s Kingdom for the Righteous.
The Liberal Protestant is, in my opinion, more committed to being a liberal than a Protestant. Liberal Protestants are similar to left-wing Jews who support the anti-Israel policies of the Democrat Party, or pro-abortion Catholics who disdain the ignorance of their pope.
Peale felt the Earth was to be enjoyed through right-thinking and ethical balance. Man was empowered as God’s custodian as noted in Genesis.
So Norman Vincent Peale’s preaching of ‘positive-thinking’ is synonymous with ‘New Thought’? What are the origins of ‘New Thought’? How does this connect with the ‘Law of Attraction’ widely popularised in recent years in ‘The Secret” etc…
JW: The New Thought Movement is particularly rooted in America. There have been European luminaries among its proponents, but it is an indigenous philosophy that shares the “can do” spirit on which this country is based. Its most immediate roots are among the New England Transcendentalists, especially Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Emerson was a prolific writer and lecturer, an ordained clergyman, a scholar of Indian spiritual thought, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Hermeticism. Having openly reached into the Wisdom of the East for spiritual sustenance, he is credited with having influenced the American religious broadening of the nineteenth century and beyond, to include Mormonism, Psychism, and New Thought.
On the other hand, the Transcendentalists were hardly New Thought proponents. Their high-minded idealism went far beyond the earthly concerns of New Thought. But Emerson’s brand of religious and spiritual experimentation opened a series of options to America in which many contemporary trends could manifest. The mid-nineteenth century was the time of Eliphas Lévi, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Madame Blavatsky, P. B. Randolph, the flourishing of Freemasonry and the concomitant scandals associated with some of its excesses, the establishment of alternative utopian communities, the rise of Spiritualism, and the publicizing of psychic phenomena. Even Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were believed to have sought communication with their deceased son in White House séances. Emerson’s efforts helped foster the explosive burst of religious creativity of the time.
Mitch Horowitz dates the first of the actual New Thought proponents to the 1830s in the person of Phineas P. Quimby in Maine. Quimby’s most noted disciple was Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. Her singular obsession with mental influence controlling physical events was the most extreme denial of physical reality within the New Thought movement.
Wallace D. Wattles (1860-1911) was the direct precursor of the Law of Attraction teachings made popular by The Secret. I remember when Destiny Books opened its publishing doors in the mid-1970s. Among its first titles was a mass market paperback version of Wattles’ Financial Success, now retitled The Science of Getting Rich and still in print. Wattles was also a social reformer who ran for political office as a socialist before his death. He was joined in his idealism by Elbert Hubbard, Ralph Waldo Trine, and Ernest Holmes (1887-1960). Holmes started the Church of Religious Science in Los Angeles in 1932 and was the author of The Science of Mind, a vastly influential text in the canon of New Thought. Holmes was the direct link between Dr. Peale and New Thought. Peale read Holmes in the early 1920s, just before entering the School of Theology at Boston University.
At the same time as the New Thought Movement was flourishing, the early twentieth century brought out a number of spiritual teachers whose work lives on today. Foremost among these is, of course, Manly Palmer Hall. His opening of the higher Mysteries of myth, religion, and philosophy to a wider audience continues to resonate in his bestselling books. It is likely he and Holmes crossed paths on the Los Angeles lecture circuit of the day.
Today ‘positive-thinking’ is universally identified with Oprah, other ‘New Age’ celebrities, and supporters of Trump’s rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton. Many of them also support a range of progressive social movements. Yet Norman Vincent Peale, the Trump family pastor, was a traditional American conservative. He’s been quoted as saying the choice is between “Christ or Communism” and “Christ or the police state.” Rev. Peale comes across as a determined opponent of everything the American Left stands for…?
JW: Communism, the Police State, Sharia Law, Hillary Clinton, and Oprah all share an adherence to a common principle: Collectivism. This is the idea that the interests of the individual are, and must/should be, subservient to those of the group. This pernicious philosophy was enunciated in Europe by Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), the intellectual godparents of Karl Marx. Collectivists assume that the ills of society and the flaws of the human design can be corrected by “experts”—if only they are given enough time and control.
Opposed to all of them are the writings of philosophers like John Locke (1632-1704) the intellectual founder of the concept of limited government. Locke’s philosophy was ultimately embodied in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and the strict binding of government from mischief by the chains of law as outlined in the United States Constitution. Individualism presupposes that the greatest good will come to the greatest number by respecting the inherent Liberty of each person—the unalienable rights we mentioned earlier. Peale’s conservatism and anti-Communism would put him in the individualist camp.
The powers of positive thinking and the link to the universal mind proclaimed by the New Thought movement seems to me more amenable to Individualism than Collectivism. Although I was born Jewish, I accept America as a “Christian nation” because I believe the Judeo-Christian tradition is the home of Individualism. Our concept of a human relationship with God is very personal. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his only son at God’s command. Jesus is constantly speaking to people who must make decisions, accept responsibilities, commit to tasks in their personal lives. This all bespeaks the freedom and necessity to choose. None of this highly personal hero’s drama is a factor in either Islam or Totalitarian Statism. One’s choices are made by one’s betters, either the imam or the bureaucrat. (This may help explain the Left’s love affair with Islam, despite the latter’s rejection of every value of the social justice warrior—except the lust for control.)
New Thought, Science of Mind, Positive Thinking… This is a quintessential American philosophy. One often seen as integral to the ’New Age’. How has this very American idea shaped Donald Trump’s life? Is he America’s first [’New Thought’/‘Positive Thinking’/’New Age’] president?
JW: Pride, common values, culture, and a sense of national purpose are what bring a people together. As Trump said in his inaugural speech, nationalism offers the potential for a transformative and positive reshaping of a society. “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”
While I appreciate differences among our people, I reject “diversity” as a goal in and of itself. I think countries should welcome those who embrace the dominant national identity. For example, my grandparents fled the Russian pogroms at the beginning of the twentieth century. But once arrived here, even though none of them spoke English, they became Americans. Their kids taught them English as they learned it in school. No multi-culturalism in those days! My grandparents contributed to the economy and strength of their new homeland. And they influenced their grandchildren to love America as a beacon of light and freedom. Trump’s family had the same dynamics I would expect.
I think Donald Trump’s first inaugural address of January 20, 2017 was remarkable. I have already said that I think his vision of America First is one that can be shared by all countries as an embrace of national self-interest. I think this is one reason Trump is willing to entertain the idea of an alliance with Putin, clearly a proponent of Russia First, or Benjamin Netanyahu, an Israel First leader. As Trump said, “Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.” I see nothing wrong with politicians binding themselves to their citizens. Again to quote the President, “At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.”
But he went on to state what I believe is the most important belief of the New Thought movement and the reason Donald Trump will be correctly identified as America’s first New Thought President.
“Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.”
This profound acceptance of the “just and reasonable demands of a righteous public” is precisely why people like Wattles, Holmes, Peale, and the authors of The Secret tell us it is OK to visualize prosperity and success and the good things of life. As long as we use them wisely—in tune with the cosmic purpose—they are ours for the taking. Crowley used different language (like Trump he is a bit of a provocateur). “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Crowley later referred to this as “the most sublimely austere ethical precept ever uttered, despite its apparent license.”
In your book ‘The Secrets of Masonic Washington’ you detail the Masonic influences on the birth and development of the American republic. You show that in the New World, free of monarchy and aristocracy, the ideas of the Enlightenment were able to flourish. Do you think the values and true vision of America’s Founding Fathers can be revived today under a Trump presidency?
JW: I do. Trump is the ultimate pragmatist. I wish he had a more ideological mindset that would place philosophy above the entire deliberative process, but I think he has good instincts. And good influences around him to steer him away from potential overreaches. What I am hoping is that he will build enough successes to get an stronger conservative majority in both houses of Congress in 2018. I would love nothing better than for American blacks to turn their backs on the urban plantation erected for them by Democrats. For union members who want to work to understand that you need jobs in order to work, and to have jobs you must have capital. I would love to see immigrants realize that open borders are the death of their aspiration to rise into the middle class and offer their own children prosperity beyond that they were able to attain for themselves. I would love to see the dismantlement of the modern multi-cultural Tower of Babel, and the understanding that a society of law and order, common language, and celebration of mutual norms is the immigrant’s key to freedom. Yes, speak Spanish or whatever language at home so your kids don’t lose it. But for you and them to get ahead, you need English! I would love to see Civics taught again in schools. I remember when American history and American government were concepts and ideals we learned. What is the “Separation of Powers”? Why is that good? Why are there two houses of Congress and why are they so different? What is the benefit of “gridlock” and why did the Founders incorporate it into their design? What is the meaning and import of the Electoral College?
If America can come together under a President Trump, it seems to me that every day, in every way, we’ll get better and better as a nation and a world!