Magical thinking? 痴心妄想


Reader question:

Please explain "magical thinking" as in: Trump's magical thinking won't stop the coronavirus pandemic.


My comments:

Donald Trump, the US President, has famously or rather infamously predicted that the coronavirus will one day "magically disappear".

Like, vanishing on its own, into the thin air, like water vapor.

Magical thinking, as name suggests, refers to a kind of wishful thinking. Essentially it's this: wonderful things will come true if you believe that they will come true.

Like, magically. Like pigeons and rabbits coming magically out of the sleeves of a magician.

Needless to say, magical thinking is based more on superstition or religion than on science.

That's why Trump was and continues to be criticized for folding his arms and yet hoping the corona crisis facing all Americans will go away.

Like, being blown away to the high seas by the four winds.

Anyways, here are media examples of "magical thinking", a belief that thinking or wishing something can cause it to happen:

1. "You are not perfect. Get over it" is the message I tell myself when I am stressed out over not being superwoman. Yet as much as I tell myself this truth I still fail to embrace the concept fully. It is this trait, the desire for perfection, which causes me great personal angst and anxiety. There is that competing voice in my head saying, "You can do better" or "You are not doing enough." I have the feeling that I am not alone in my anxiety over the pursuit of perfection.

Where does perfectionism come from?
One of the images that may come to mind when we discuss perfectionism is the overbearing parent who constantly criticizes and scolds their child for every little mistake. Love and nurturing are withheld and may be conditional upon the child's "performance" of what he or she can do. It is a reasonable assumption that such a child may grow up to either rebel or become a perfectionist. Yet this is not the only scenario which may contribute to the trait of perfectionism. The following list includes other possible factors involved in creating the need for perfection.


Maintaining an illusion of control

When we feel that our life is spiraling out of control, one way to deal with this overwhelming feeling is to seek control in other areas. Striving for perfection is one defense mechanism to deal with great uncertainty. If we can't control the world and our circumstances, then we may seek to control ourselves. One way to do that is to be perfect. Perfectionism is a way to distract ourselves from the crises at hand. This way we don't have to accept unacceptable things like having a child with an incurable illness or that our spouse has an addiction to drugs or alcohol. If we carry our magical thinking to the extreme, we may even feel that we can cure such things by simply being perfect.

Believing that bad things will happen if we are not perfect

Finish this sentence: If I am not perfect then ..."? As a child I would finish that sentence with: My mother will never be happy or sane. I will never get out of poverty. I will be unloved. As an adult, my thinking is similar to when I was a child. I feel that if I am not perfect that my household will fall apart, my son with autism will regress and everyone will be disappointed in me. Every perfectionist has their own variation of this theme. It basically equates to "If I am not perfect bad things will happen and not just to me but to the people I love." This is another illusion of perfectionism and may be an unconscious way to hold onto control when we feel we have none.

- Anxiety Over Not Being Perfect: Why Some of Us Crave Perfection, by Anne Windermere,, October 29, 2018.

2. Impeachment is moving forward and going nowhere. There is new information but it doesn’t really tell those who’ve paid attention anything they didn’t know. Putative administration operative Lev Parnas said on “The Rachel Maddow Show” Wednesday that the president knew everything about efforts to lean on Ukraine. But this was clear in testimony throughout the impeachment hearings. His own ambassador to the European Union said it! The ambassador to Ukraine knew she was being schemed against, lost her job because of it, and spelled it out under oath.

It’s icing on a cake that’s already sagging. The president will be acquitted for a host of reasons, from partisanship to a prudential judgment that his actions don’t warrant removal with a presidential election 10 months away.


I found myself watching Elizabeth Warren. She has proved she can take a punch and throw one (“Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections.”) Of the candidates in their 70s she’s the highest-energy and most indefatigable. Actually she’d have high energy for a 50-year-old. All candidates now have to be actors but she’s a good one, telling her stories over and over, her voice growing husky at the moving parts.

Her challenge is not that she’s a woman, it is her policies, and maybe something else. I watched the debate with a man who’s a sophisticated observer with no dog in the fight. Ms. Warren was doing her magical thinking about how universal Medicare won’t cost people a thing, it’s all savings with a few small tax increases on people we don’t like. I asked aloud, “Does she believe what she says or does she know it’s make-believe?”

- Impeachment Moves Forward to Nowhere, by Peggy Nooan, PatriotPost.US, January 18. 2020.

3. In the disaster movie “Airport 1975,” a flight attendant takes over the controls of a Boeing 747 airliner after the pilots are killed when a small plane crashes into their cockpit. A 747 pilot on the ground instructs her by radio how to keep the plane circling. A passenger on the plane hears what happened from another flight attendant. “You mean the stewardess is flying the plane?!” He gulps a glass of whisky.

That’s how I felt last week listening to President Trump, whose background is real estate and not medicine, promoting a malaria drug to end the coronavirus pandemic. He claimed that the drug, called chloroquine phosphate, or chloroquine, “was approved very, very quickly” and “could be a game changer.”

In the middle of a frightening pandemic, Trump may have misled the American people about a cure. Indeed, the FDA promptly pointed out that chloroquine is not approved as a treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and that, before any such approval, clinical trials will first have to demonstrate its safety and effectiveness for that use. Such trials may require a year to 15 months, or even longer, and involve hundreds and even thousands of patients.

Trump’s exaggerated claim was actually dangerous. After listening to him, a husband and wife in Arizona who thought they had COVID-19 symptoms ingested a substance similar to chloroquine. The husband died and the wife barely survived. Doctors and health organizations around the world, as though they didn’t have enough on their hands, had to issue warnings not to self-medicate for COVID-19.

At least in “Airport 1975,” the flight attendant carefully followed the instructions of the pilot on the ground. Trump relies on magical thinking instead of the advice of the nation’s leading infectious disease experts.

How else to explain Trump’s proposal to have businesses across the country “opened up” and the “churches packed” by Easter Sunday, April 12? Easing the preventive lockdowns and other measures, one might think, would only be done after careful assessment of the course of the pandemic, the continuing need for those measures and the risk-reward of scaling them back. Here is the data that Trump relied on: “I just thought it was a beautiful time.”

- Trump's magical thinking won't stop the coronavirus pandemic,, by Gregory J. Wallace, March 27, 2020.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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