We Are Legion: Tyrants as the Embodiment of Populism

Authoritarians like Donald Trump are often placed in power by a seemingly democratic force. They do not seize power by their own right, but through the justification of the majority (even if that majority is a fake majority).

The same is true of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who when fighting in the Ugandan bush with the National Resistance Army, gained popular support with his platform that “African leaders stay too long in power.” (He has now enjoyed 31 years as head of state.)

We can learn a lot from Jesus’ enemies.

Once Jesus reached a place called Gerasenes where he was said to have encountered a man possessed by some kind of evil spirits. The man had terrorized the entire area, breaking any chains that bound him and wreaking havoc on the local population.

At first glance, it seems appropriate to demonize this man, but when Jesus asked for the man’s name, the spirits responded, “We are legion” (or “we are many”).

Jesus cast the demons into a herd of pigs (in Jewish tradition, vile/unclean creatures). These pigs then committed suicide by running over a cliff into the water.

At first, the man continued to terrify people – even though he was now his normal, sensible self.

We fear the embodied – the Trumps, Musevenis, Hitlers – without recognizing their true source of power: the masses embodying them. Masses that feel some kind of fear of others who may jeopardize their privileges or seem to cause them financial challenges.

Skyrocketing inflation allowed Hitler to so easily scapegoat Jews. Trump easily blames the failing United States economy on immigrants. Anger and fear is coddled by projecting blame on ethnic or religious minorities, allowing dominant groups who are beginning to feel the strains of systemic injustices (predatory lending, for example) to project their anger on those who must try even harder to survive the same injustices. Divide and rule.

Jesus did not demonize the once-possessed man. (In the end, he even recruited him as a tool to market his blossoming movement.) Instead, he targeted the legion – the masses – and forced them into exile.

Today, lower and middle class whites are legion. Note what they share in common: a feeling of helplessness when under threat, but some kind of confidence when they are together – a hesitancy to name themselves for what they are (demons/racists….translated to legion/alt-right).

This ambiguous collective identity begotten of perceived threat, consolidated in a single man (rarely a woman) who can rally the masses around virtually nothing is populism. Resistance to Trump is not enough. The legion – the escalating global north fascism – must be forced to clarify its true identity before it can be properly expelled.

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