Fascism Might Sound Like A Joke, But It’s No Laughing Matter


To some, the rise of Donald Trump might have seemed as ridiculous as it did hilarious. The laughter appears to have dried up, writes Greens MP Jenny Leong.

Many months ago a youtube clip went viral (as they are known to do from time to time). It was a mashup of Donald Trump saying the word China. China, China, China. Everyone was sharing it and laughing.

People who are close to me, people who I call friends, people I respect politically, were all sharing it and they were laughing. They found it funny. I could barely watch the whole thing and I certainly didn’t laugh.

At the time I thought perhaps it was just another example of me taking myself too seriously. I’ve never been much of a fan of amusing animal videos either, so I didn’t think much of it.

US president-elect, Donald Trump.
US president-elect, Donald Trump.

Throughout the election campaign, on any given day, there were literally hundreds of ‘satirical’ takes on Trump.

Yesterday morning, while scrolling through various feeds with endless commentary and feels about the new US President-elect, I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of laughing going on.

It made me wonder if the constant laughing at those things might have been the Trojan Horse that resulted in our downfall.

Whether it be cut together footage of Trump saying China on youtube, Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin or, closer to home, mocking Pauline Hanson’s mis-statements or the Sustainable Population Party’s poster that blames traffic congestion on immigration, it’s time we considered the implications of this laughter.

In many cases the laughter is certainly at the person, it is a mocking laughter, it is a superior laughter. Dare I say it, it is an elite laughter. It should be acknowledged that the so-called left or socially progressive are often guilty of this.

If a revolution sounds like a whisper, perhaps the rise of fascism sounds like a joke. And as we probably would all agree, fascism is no laughing matter.

Making a mockery of ever-growing in popularity, right-wing, conservative leaders or viewpoints might make us feel better. It might give us a sense of superiority with our more complex, more advanced, more principled analysis of the world. But it also has other much more serious ramifications.

Pauline Hanson delivers her maiden speech to the Senate, in September 2016.
Pauline Hanson delivers her maiden speech to the Senate, in September 2016.

This mocking is often done by those who can’t believe anyone would be taking Trump or Hanson seriously. In taking the piss and being too quick to dismiss, it seems some of us socially progressive folks have forgotten to check our own privilege.

In laughing at these figures, we have been inadvertently mocking and laughing (and thus most likely further enraging and activating) those that feel they can identify with the original message, that it is speaking to them.

Trump’s victory as President – and Pauline Hanson’s recent electoral success in Australia – make it clear that we laugh at our own peril.

Perhaps a person’s ability to laugh, to mock, to write it off, dismiss it, is directly proportional to their privilege. Just as one’s ability to “objectively” analyse a political situation that is impacting people’s lives indicates a freedom from that impact – an ability to not be affected directly, personally, viscerally, by what is being discussed.

So here’s a suggestion to all of us: next time you laugh or brush it off as not serious, check your privilege.

As a tertiary educated, middle-class, cis-gendered, Member of Parliament I am privileged in many ways, but when it comes to Trump saying China I can’t laugh.

If a revolution sounds like a whisper, and the rise of fascism like a joke, in both cases if you listen carefully, what sparks them is inequality and injustice. That’s what we need to be addressing.


Jenny Leong is the State Member for the Electorate of Newtown in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Jenny was elected to parliament at the NSW state election on 28 March 2015. Prior to entering parliament, Jenny worked for a number of years with Amnesty International as a crisis coordinator and campaign manager in London, Hong Kong, and Sydney. At Amnesty International, she oversaw the organisation’s response to the Middle East & North Africa Uprising and worked to protect freedom of expression in the lead up to the 2010 Burma elections. She has also held the position of Manager of Community Arts and Cultural Development at the Australia Council for the Arts. Jenny has been an active member of The Greens for over a decade. In 2013, she worked as the Federal Election Campaign Coordinator for the NSW Greens.