The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘The Simpsons’ predicted a Trump presidency 16 years ago. The writer explains why.

In a short feature last year, Homer appeared at a Trump rally. (courtesy of FOX TV)

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 in a 2013 “Simpsons” episode. And just weeks later, we had a new example: Sixteen years ago, 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 Post’s Comic Riffs. “Lisa has a problem beyond her ability” — the kind that only Bart can solve.

But how did the series arrive at a President Trump? Greaney explains that the real-estate mogul was just the right comedic fit at the time, and notes that they needed a celebrity name that would sound slyly absurdist.

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 a much darker way,” the Emmy-winning writer-producer said early this year. “He seemed kind of lovable in the old days, in a blowhard way.”

The Harvard-sprung Greaney makes no great claim of political prescience, noting, “I never would have predicted this campaign.”

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Still, with tongue not entirely planted in cheek, Greaney — who also wrote the famed rodeo anthem scene in “Borat” — accepts some of the collective blame for allowing a Trump to flourish as a candidate.

“I blame us — I blame the culture of comedy,” he tells Comic Riffs. Greaney posits that the movie “Animal House,” which “mocked the norms of decent behavior,” helped counterculture viewpoints launch into the American comedic mainstream, thus fostering such establishment-mocking shows as “The Simpsons.” Perhaps all this mockery, he says, somehow gave rise to an “anti-political establishment” candidate like Trump.

“We seem to have blown it up,” says Greaney, laughing, of the old social norm. “No ‘Animal House,’ no Trump.”

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So to take “The Simpsons” episode one step further: Since Lisa becomes a historic woman president following Trump, does that mean the show was prognosticating 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, did Greaney believe Trump would win?

“No, I don’t think Trump can win,” the writer said in March. “But the show is a collective, so our collective mind might have a different answer.”

This article was originally published March 18, 2016. It has been updated.

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