In his late twenties, Trump began attending Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue. Founded in 1628 in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, Marble Collegiate is one of the few institutions that survives from the city’s founding. Peter Minuit, the governor of New Amsterdam, was the first church elder, and Peter Stuyvesant, the colony’s director general, led worshippers to service every Sunday. The high steeple of its current home, erected in 1854, rises two hundred feet above the pavement, a symbol of uprightness set in stone. Here Trump walked down the aisle after exchanging vows with Ivana and heard the sermons of Norman Vincent Peale, a man whose philosophy would become Trump’s own.
When Trump met him, Peale was already famous as the author of The Power of Positive Thinking, a book that would go on to sell some five million copies. Peale occupied a position at the center of the establishment, though this standing was endangered in 1960, when he joined a group of 150 Protestant pastors, including Billy Graham, that wanted to keep Kennedy out of the White House. The group issued a manifesto asking whether a Catholic could be trusted as president when Rome had shown such “determined efforts . . . to breach the wall of separation of church and state.” Peale led the public presentation of the document and faced an immediate backlash from Union Theological Seminary’s Reinhold Niebuhr and John Bennett, who accused him of “blind prejudice.” The embarrassed Peale apologized and from then on sought to distance his teaching from the harsh realities of politics.
Before Trump made his own foray into politics, he read Peale’s book and adopted its program of “positive thinking.” The two men began to trade public compliments. Peale, always generous in his assessments of human nature, said that Trump had a “profound streak of honest humility.” Trump, not exactly showing that humble streak, said that Peale “thought I was his greatest student of all time.” In a certain sense, Trump was right. Peale has had no more perfect disciple.
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