THE WASHINGTON POST
Sometimes “The Simpsons” is like a Magic 8-Ball that can seem to hold all the answers. Peer deeply enough into the long odyssey of Homer, say, and a certain warped wisdom can float to the surface.
One example resurfaced early this year, when it was remembered that David Bowie and Alan Rickman, who died within days of each other in January, were both referenced in one scene from a 2013 “Simpsons” episode. And now we have a new example, with a nod to presidential politics: 16 years ago March 19, in an episode titled “Bart to the Future,” the show predicted a Donald Trump presidency.
In the 2000 episode, Lisa becomes the nation’s first “straight female” president, while brother Bart has slacked away his life. And from the Oval Office, she says, “As you know, we’ve inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump.”
“The story was really about Bart saving Lisa’s presidency,” episode writer Dan Greaney tells The Washington Post’. “Lisa has a problem beyond her ability” — the kind that only Bart can solve.
But how did the series arrive at a President Trump? Do show executives Matt Groening and James L. Brooks have a big Ouija board straight from Springfield, USA?
Trump was just the right comedic fit at the time, explains Greaney, noting that they needed a name that sounded absurd.
Besides, Greaney says, “He seems like a ‘Simpsons’-esque figure — he fits right in there, in an over-the-top way.”
“But now that he’s running for president, I see that in such a darker way,” the veteran writer continues. “He seemed kind of lovable in the old days, in a blowhard way.”
The Harvard-sprung writer makes no great claim of political prescience, noting, “I never would have predicted this campaign.”
Tongue not entirely planted in cheek, Greaney — who also wrote the famed rodeo anthem scene in “Borat” — accepts some of the collective blame, he says, for allowing a Trump to flourish as a candidate.
“I blame us — I blame the culture of comedy,” he says. Greaney posits that the movie “Animal House,” which “mocked the norms of decent behavior,” helped counterculture viewpoints launch into the U.S. comedic mainstream, thus fostering establishment-mocking shows like “The Simpsons.” Perhaps all this mockery, he says, somehow gave rise to an “anti-political establishment” candidate like Trump.
I blame us — I blame the culture of comedy.”
-Dan Greaney. The Simpsons episode writer
“We seem to have blown it up,” says Greaney, laughing, of the old social norm. There you have it, he concludes. “No ‘Animal House,’ no Trump.”
So to take “The Simpsons” one step further: Since Lisa becomes a historic woman president following Trump, does that mean the show was prognosticating as to a Hillary Clinton presidency?
“Lisa is (age) 8 on the show, and she would have to be at least 35 to be president,” Greaney says with a clever, knowing dodge. “So 27 years is time for a lot of other presidents.”
And since that 2000 episode could yet prove prescient, does Greaney himself believe Trump can win?
“No, I don’t think Trump can win,” the writer says. “But the show is a collective, so our collective mind might have a different answer.”