Trump: The Leader

Donald Trump’s post-truth message and methods are reminiscent of those of the infamous authoritarian politicians of the Twentieth Century. For example:

  • He advocates nationalism.
  • He asserts that only he can make the country great.
  • He ridicules his opponents and encourages attacks on his critics.
  • He exploits fear of, and prejudice against, foreigners and minorities.
  • He accepts facts and reasoned conclusions only if they agree with his opinions.
  • He moves quickly to remove staff members who aren’t loyal to him.

Europe rose from the ashes of war, and said, “Never again.” The world had learned where nationalism inexorably led, and America saw itself as the exceptional and necessary guardian of international freedom. Years passed and the last relic of the era of European autocrats seemed destined to the dustbin of history.   We forgot history and dropped our guard, and then nationalism resurfaced, not only in Europe, but also in America. We heard the siren song of national greatness—the message that inspired Europeans in the twenties and thirties—and now we must be vigilant for signs of authoritarian rule in America. Here are some indicators of an emerging autocratic state:

  • The leader leaps to power, bypassing the normal progression up through governmental offices.
  • The leader’s agenda is inserted as his party’s agenda.
  • Journalists who do not support the leader are restricted, corrected, and censored.
  • Political opponents are discredited or charged with crimes.
  • Demands are made for treaties and alliances to be rewritten.
  • Travel into and out of the country is increasingly restricted.
  • Members of scapegoated groups are listed in a registry (or black list).
  • A military guard is assigned to the leader.
  • The public is told that the nation must build up its military forces and prepare for war.
  • Military and industry are unified in a common, nationalistic purpose.

These developments are signs of transition from democracy to autocracy, and historically, they occur rapidly—within 2-3 years. In most cases the ultimate result of autocracy is war, but the causality can go the other way, war can make the efficiencies of autocratic rule more attractive, even essential. America has gone down the road toward autocratic rule more than once. Fortunately, each time we rapidly recovered our freedoms. There were three noteworthy authoritarian leader of our past, but they were not demagogues seeking power but rather competent and modest leaders dealing with a war for national survival. This time the situation is different. This time democracy has failed.

—William Melvin Gardner—

Trump’s Indifference to Truth

Why did so many voters reject Trump?  

During the primary and the general election, Mr. Trump was generally treated as a normal candidate, not as someone from the Post-Truth universe.  Most voters, however, rejected his candidacy.

  • Some rejected him because they feared his rash promises and agenda.
  • Others rejected him because of his lack of knowledge and experience.
  • A few rejected him because he appeared to be prejudiced and bigoted.
  • And then there were voters who saw him as a crude and childish.

Missing from this list are the people who rejected him because of his narcissistic, authoritarian, aggressive, psychopathic, and demagogic personality. This is not name-calling. These were personality characteristics that were on proud display—and therefore prominent among the reasons he was nominated and elected!

  • Narcissistic:  He is a braggart hungry for praise and respect. Many of his supporters see this as an acceptable attitude for a celebrity.
  • Authoritarian:  He gives orders and punishes those who do not comply. Many of his supporters see this as normal conduct for a self-made billionaire.
  • Aggressive:  He threatens and retaliates.  He “speaks his mind” and is not hamstrung by PC rules of considerate conduct.   Many of his supporters see this as evidence of his strength of character.
  • Psychopathic:  His moral values apply only to those who are loyal to him, not to those who are of no use (or no longer of use) to him. Many of his supporters see this as normal for a strong and practical businessman.
  • Demagogic:  He is a BS artist (a person indifferent to truth) who sells himself as the only person who can “Make America Great Again!”  His supporters see such BS as colorful campaign rhetoric.

These are typical personality characteristics of autocrats. Now, as we enter this new Post-Truth Era, we will discover whether our democratic republic has become a house of cards.     —William Melvin Gardner—


*See Chapters 9 & 10 in Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research (2012).


Review from Goodreads

Naomi’s Review of Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research

September 15, 2015

This was a really quick read. I found the argument that these four categories of truth are fundamentally independent and cannot challenge each other’s domains to be difficult, but also pretty accurate. I read this for a grad school class on transitional justice where we discussed how to understand other people’s point of view based on their “type” of truth (3 Stars).

Book Review

Review of Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research

This was a very interesting book. It is instructive to consider that “truth” means different things in different arenas. The author does a great job of articulating what truth may mean in different contexts, and what the context means to those who want to challenge the validity of the truth as seen by another. (John Fredrickson’s 5 star review, July, 2013)

Book Review

SAMJ Editorial about Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research.

By William Melvin Gardner. Pp. 192. $12.95 (paperback), $9.95 (ebook for Kindle and Nook). Logica Books. 2012. ISBN 978-0-9761875-1-6 and 978-0-9761875-2-3, respectively. Information and contact available at:

Do not tell a patient that they have cancer–they cannot handle this and behave inappropriately. This was the gist of the teaching of my mentor, Professor Jannie Louw, when I was a medical student. This book does not deal with such, now outdated, patient-related specifics, but with the four main domains of truth. These concepts are most helpful when we, as medical scientists, find ourselves perplexed by people (and our patients) latching onto other beliefs rather than taking our advice. Gardner’s descriptions of the domains of truth: rhetorica, mystica, logica and empirca, are an easy read and help us to make sense of why and how people differ in their views of the world. (

J P de V van Niekerk

Managing editor, SAMJ


Thomas Horan’s Review Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research (for Amazon)

“Something a little bit astonishing:”
“Self-published, I assume, it’s something of a gift from the gods; straightforward, plainly written, lovely in that way you know you must have articulated these simple things before, you just can’t quite remember doing it. And they are crucial things.”
“He [William Melvin Gardner] has an important argument to convey; he does it well; it’s crucially important. I hope it sells millions and goes to every high school senior, and every person in political and religious and scientific office in the country.” (Amazon: May 2, 2013)


Kyle Connors’ review
of Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research by William Melvin Gardner:

“I sense a paradigm shift in my future:”
“Although I’m not 100% sold on what Mr. Gardner has to say in this book it has me thinking. Any book that can get me to question the current way I think about things is certainly worth reading. These 4 domains of Truth are cultural, and I would imagine some cognitive dissonance must be navigated through when re-framing reality into Mr. Gardner’s truths. What’s best about this book is how accessible it is; it can be very hard to digest certain books (especially after a long day at work), but I can understand and retain it all. A delight to read. Highly recommended!” (Amazon: March 20, 2013)

Equal Time for Freethought

William Melvin Gardner (author of Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research) was interviewed on Saturday, April 20th, at 3:00 on WBAI Radio in NYC.  The program was “Equal Time from Freethought,” and the interviewer was Xaquri Rzetelny. The 53-minute interview can be replayed from the WBAI archives:



Skeptical Inquirer

Review of Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research for Skeptical Inquirer (November-December, 2012) by Richard Bond.

Richard Bond writes, “He [Gardner] has a unique ability to take a complex philosophical topic and make it clear and readily understandable;” and he ends his review with, “Handling Truth should be of interest to anyone in psychology or politics, as well as those who have an interest in philosophy.”

Irreconcilable Truths

Underlying theme of William Melvin Gardner’s Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research.

Disputes between the four domains of truth are inevitable, and the resulting controversies endure simply because they cannot be resolved. The domains can coexist, even within a single head, but their differences can- not be reconciled. To the extent we wish to dwell or travel in multiple domains, we must learn to accept irreconcilable truths.