Up until about a year ago, a good portion of the country thought the idea of failed real estate mogul turned reality TV show host Donald Trump being the president of the United States wasn’t a plausible scenario. Looked at objectively, the whole premise sounds like a lazy dystopian shorthand of a knock-off Paul Verhoeven movie—and yet, here we are. But there was one institution that predicted a Trump presidency long before it was even a twinkle in the Donald’s bloodshot eye: The Simpsons. The season 11 episode “Bart To The Future”—which aired in March of 2000—takes place in the year 2030, where our very own Lisa Simpson has been elected president, taking the reins from her predecessor, Donald Trump. But maybe this throwaway joke isn’t the only eerily accurate prediction the episode has to offer? Maybe, in our own future, we could see Lisa Simpson in the real Oval Office.
That’s (sort of) the idea behind this exceedingly serious piece from philosopher Tom Whyman on The Baffler, which uses the world as depicted in “Bart To The Future” to explore the inevitable trappings of our own political future. Whyman describes The Simpsons’ version of America in 2030 as a place where culture hasn’t changed much since the ’90s, and the changes we do see (hover buses, BrainVision News) are strictly superficial. It is clear, however, that the unseen President Trump has left a world worse off than when he found it. Lisa inherits a devastated economy, ravaged ecosystem, and generationally divided nation. As the straight-A student the show always paints her to be, her solution is a rational-minded yet unpopular tax hike that she never really gets off the ground.
This is where Whyman aggressively pulls us back into our own reality. He doesn’t actually think the fictional character Lisa Simpson will be the next U.S. president—she is a cartoon character—but he does think that unless the Democrats do some serious soul-searching, their next viable candidate will likely run into the same roadblocks that Lisa did in this episode: facing down serious, life-threatening issues with a smug certainty that fails to see how the world has changed. It’s a real bummer of a prediction, and we can only hope it’s as off-the-mark as everything else in the episode, but only time will tell.