The Simpsons has given us some of the best satire of the century — and it turns out it also predicted the Trump administration and the unprecedentedly weird timeline it would bring.
As the show enters its 30th season, it has managed to foreshadow plenty of random things that were to come. And, when it comes to politics, it somehow managed to churn out episodes that, in hindsight, forewarned us of the chaos that was to come under a Trump administration. Behold, the fortune told by an animated family.
A house divided
If nothing else, The Simpsons nailed how divisive elections can be with their 1990 episode, “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish,” in which the family is split on gubernatorial candidates for Springfield’s state. But where it gets pretty on-the-nose in retrospect is how the episode played out.
The women of the Simpson family (Marge, Lisa, and, presumably, Maggie) supported Mary Bailey, a woman candidate who had lots of political experience and seemed to be the common sense pick. (She was the incumbent! She had run before!) While Homer and Bart backed perennial villain Montgomery Burns, an aging, ranting businessman who was running for purely selfish reasons (seeking to keep his nuclear plant open and his cash flow rolling).
Is there’s a better corollary for the 2016 election than this? If there is, I don’t want to know about it.
Throw in Blinky the three-eyed fish, who figures big-league into the plot, as a precursor to 2016 viral sensation Ken Bone and, well, there ya go.
In less than two years in office, Trump has already used his Twitter account to attack foreign leaders and amp up the threat of a nuclear war with North Korea. He’s also managed to rankle France, one of our oldest allies, with his bizarre on-again/off-again bromance with French president Emanuel Macron.
The Simpsons foretold not just a leader antagonizing another country into nuclear war but a fall-out with the French by combining them in the “The Homega Man” segment of their 1997 Halloween special.
In that short, Springfield’s Mayor Quimby has pissed off France with a joke about frogs — “I stand by my ethnic slur!” — and refuses to apologize or back down. The French retaliate by nuking the hell out of Springfield, with Homer as its only survivor.
Swap out France with North Korea (or maybe not with the way things are going) and it hits pretty close to home, weird movie trailer olive branch or not.
Dirty tricks and elections
Few Simpsons episodes have skewered the mechanizations of elections and political parties quite like the 1994 episode “Sideshow Bob Roberts.” The episode is packed to the gills with old political references, mostly related to JFK avatar Mayor Quimby — like a Rush Limbaugh clone, using dead peoples votes, unfortunate appearances during televised debates, the Tim Robbins political satire name-checked in the episode title, and even a shout-out to “Deep Throat.”
But The Simpsons takes those old political tropes and flips them on their head. Bart’s nemesis Sideshow Bob is a charismatic former TV star who becomes the Republican candidate for mayor and then uses optics and dirty tricks to steal the election from Quimby and wreak vengeance on those who opposed him (mainly, the Simpsons family).
There are other little tidbits from the episode, like the portrayal of the Springfield GOP which spawned this terrific tweet:
Yes, that definitely sounds familiar.
Going with the frontrunner
Imagine this: A political party is facing an election where none of the main candidates electrify the electorate, and then one simple-minded outsider emerges whose campaign is treated like a joke until that candidate captivates the voters so the party shrugs, says “to hell with the party, let’s pick the winning horse,” and rolls with it.
It sounds a whole hell of a lot like the 2016 GOP primaries where the Republican Party swallowed its pride and discarded its spine by standing with Trump as the nominee despite his scorched earth campaign that saw him conquer party favorites like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
It also sounds a whole hell of a lot like the 2008 episode “E. Pluribus Wiggum” where a witless Ralph Wiggum becomes the cause célèbre of Springfield’s “first in the nation” presidential primary and is wooed by both parties, with a particular menace saved for the Republican party.
I’m not saying Donald Trump and Ralph Wiggum are equals, but I’m not not saying it, either. After all, Ralph did say he wanted to this country great again.
Of course, we never find out if Ralph, you know, won because this is The Simpsons where continuity is subject to the whims of the writers, for better or for worse.
But, if you want to extend this analogy a bit, I guess we got our conclusion on November 8, 2016.
Not for nothing, though, keep an eye out for the quick joke that involves Bill Clinton having to hammer up a Hillary Clinton sign which just drives it all home.
The holy, sacred anthem
While debates over one’s behavior during the national anthem at sporting events is a relatively recent development, The Simpsons tackled it in its own unique way in the 2004 episode “Bart-Mangled Banner.”
No, Bart accidentally mooning the flag due to a series of bizarre coincidences isn’t the same as Colin Kaepernick’s social justice protests. But the larger context around the debates are actually pretty similar.
In both cases, a hyper-sensitive reaction leads to a mob mentality that highjacks the reality of the situation. Just as the residents of Springfield are too blinded by misplaced rage to understand what, exactly, happened, Trump (and the base he whips up with his ludicrous comments on Kaepernick) loses sight of what Kaepernick’s protests are really about (social justice and police brutality against African-Americans), twisting those actions from expression of free speech into something akin to treason.
It’s wrapping yourself up in patriotism to a dangerous degree, one in which any sensible conversation is drowned out by over-wrought, misplaced jingoism.
The immigration battle
One of Trump’s biggest policies has been his anti-immigrant push, which has involved everything from a heated argument over the poem on the Statue of Liberty to the horrific policy of separating children from their parents.
The Simpsons tackled the issue in the 1996 episode “Much Apu About Nothing” in which a typical topsy-turvy Simpsons plot starts with a bear and ends up with Mayor Quimby blaming high taxes on “illegal immigrants.”
One turn leads to another and Kwik-E-Mart proprietor Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, whose visa has long since expired, is on the verge of being deported when Homer steps in and helps Apu get his citizenship.
Of course the debate over immigration in this country has been going on since even before The Simpsons, but there’s certainly something very Trumpian about the way Quimby stirs the populace into a frenzy and places the blame for the ills on immigrants both out of callousness and as misdirection. And Trump made immigration such a cornerstone of his campaign (“Build the wall!”) that it’s forever synonymous with him.
(It’s also hard not to bring the more recent debate over the problematic nature of Apu’s character and the stereotypes he portrays within the world of The Simpsons.)
The spy camera that saw it all
Okay, this one is not as deep as the others, but it’s hard not to see the parallels between the incident at the center of the 1990 episode “Homer’s Night Out” — Bart snaps a photo of Homer dancing with a stripper — and, well, plenty of Trump scandals.
From the Access Hollywood tape to Omarosa’s tapes to the alleged racial slur tape to Bob Woodward’s conversation with Trump to even, yes, the infamous, mythical “pee tape,” there’s already a long history of Trump being caught on tape doing naughty things.
Dancing with a stripper may not be one of them — yet! But that could always change.