Author: Daphne Merkin

COVID-19 Betrays America’s Curdled Cult of Optimism

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many Americans with a lot of time to think about how we’ve arrived at this calamitous national juncture. One question it raises is whether our national addiction to looking on the bright side has prevented us from dealing with the continuing hardship this situation entails? Between Donald Trump’s miracle-cure claims and the press impatiently hounding Anthony Fauci about how much more lockdown we’ll have to endure, one can observe the durable spirit of American optimism—the conviction that life, far from being a vale of tears, is fated to get better and better, if only we roll up our sleeves and keep smiling. It’s been bred into our bones by pop culture, ratified by the Constitution, symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, and mythologized (falsely) though Horatio Alger. It’s a secular religion with many sects and preachers, few as influential as Norman Vincent Peale. Dubbed “God’s Salesman,” Peale (1898-1993) was the author of The Power of Positive Thinking, which first appeared in 1952 and went on to sell more than five …