While some had hoped that Donald Trump’s ludicrous campaign promises like building a wall across the Mexican border or not allowing refugees to enter this country were merely ploys to get his constituents out to the polls, the frightening reality of his presidency are starting to set in after only two weeks of him holding the highest office in the land.
An examination of his reputation and usage from a popular culture standpoint reveals a history where he was often used as a dystopian example of how strange and dangerous society could become should a man like him ever come into power.
Much has already been written about The Simpsons predicting his presidency as far back as March 2000 when the series explored a fast forward into the lives of Bart, Lisa, Homer, Marge and Maggie.
Simpsons writer Dan Greaney told The Hollywood Reporter back in March that the episode was intended as “a warning to America.”
“That just seemed like the logical last stop before hitting bottom. It was pitched because it was consistent with the vision of America going insane,” he said.
The references don’t stop there. There are also books, movies and TV shows that all predicted in one form of another how a person like Donald Trump could actually become President of the United States.
When compiled, they read like a paranoid, hate mongering and ego-driven playbook for the future.
Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here
In the wake of Donald Trump’s surprising presidential victory in November, Money noted that Sinclair Lewis’ novel, It Can’t Happen Here, suddenly was selling out online despite being first published way back in 1935.
Written at a time when Adolf Hitler was rising to power in Nazi Germany, the satirical book focuses on Buzz Windrip, a hot-headed and egotistical politician, who promises, “to make America a proud, rich land again.”
Windrip ultimately wins the 1936 election with the support of millions of angry voters toting signs that read, “We are on relief. We want to become human beings again. We want Buzz!”
If that sounds eerily similar to Donald Trump’s winning platform, consider other lengthy passages from the book.
“My one ambition is to get all Americans to realize that they are, and must continue to be, the greatest Race on the face of this old Earth, and second, to realize that whatever apparent differences there may be among us, in wealth, knowledge, skill, ancestry or strength–though, of course, all this does not apply to people who are racially different from us–we are all brothers, bound together in the great and wonderful bond of National Unity, for which we should all be very glad,” Windrip said.
Sally Parry, of the Sinclair Lewis Society, claims there are parallels with Trump in the way that Windrip targeted his message at disaffected white working class males.
“Some of his satire is not necessarily towards Buzz Windrip, the fascist character, but towards the lazy intellectuals, the lazy liberals who say ‘well, things will go along’ and the constant refrain of ‘it can’t happen here’, this is America, we are exceptional,” she said.
Salon made a connection between Donald Trump and Buzz Windrip’s character as far back as September 2015, writing, “With his careful mix of plainspoken honesty and reactionary delusion, Trump is following an old rhetorical playbook, one defined and employed successfully in the 1936 presidential campaign of [Windrip].
A Face in the Crowd
Although he will be best remembered for the show that beared his name, Andy Griffith’s 1957 turn as Lonesome Rhoades, a country rube, who is discovered by a talent scout and thrust into the national consciousness resonates in today’s political landscape.
After Rhoades achieves political power, a communication gaffe finds the people who once championed his ascent turning on him.
As The Washington Post noted, “the story is a revealing and cautionary portrait of what happens when a non-politician captures the American imagination, expresses the frustrations and aspirations of the people, wins hearts and trust, and litters the landscape with choice reminders that beneath his truth-telling lies a surly streak of contempt.”
Consider two different rants as to the perceived notion that their ardent supporters would never turn on them.
“This whole country, just like my flock of sheep,” Rhoades states. “They’re mine, I own them, they think like I do. Only they’re more stupid than I am, so I got to think for them.”
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay,” Trump told an audience in Iowa about a week before the state’s caucuses. “It’s, like, incredible.”
When Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, he vowed to build a two-thousand-mile-long wall to stop Mexico from “sending people that have lots of problems,” while also adding, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
The oft-mentioned 1950’s TV show, Trackdown, which aired more than 70 episodes over two years, seemed to have soothsaying abilities hidden beneath it’s Western motifs.
In one particular episode, a con man, Walter Trump, rolls into town and warns people that the end of the world is approaching, but he can save them.
How you might ask? By building a wall.
A specific bit of dialogue reinforces the Trump/Wall connection.
Narrator: The people were ready to believe. Like sheep they ran to the slaughterhouse. And waiting for them was the high priest of fraud.
Trump: I am the only one. Trust me. I can build a wall around your homes that nothing will penetrate.
Townperson: What do we do? How can we save ourselves?
Trump: You ask how do you build that wall. You ask, and I’m here to tell you.
Garry Trudeau has been depicting Donald Trump in an unflattering light in his Pulitzer-winning Doonesbury comic strip as far back as 1986 – prompting the business tycoon to call him a “jerk” and a “total loser.”
Specifically, Trudeau’s now infamous first strip with Donald Trump mentioning his presidential aspirations came in response to a 1987 full-page ad that he took out in several newspapers which stated that “the world is laughing at American politicians.”
“The underlying personality disorder has been consistent,” Trudeau told Rachel Maddow. “That narcissism was bubbling up big time way back in the ’80s when he didn’t have anything to boast about. He had done this one hotel renovation and he put up a few glass and brass buildings, but he wasn’t anywhere near in the league of his peers.”
Saved by the Bell
Following the election results, comedian Rob Fee tweeted about the glaring similarities between the events of Saved by the Bell’s episode, “The Election,” and the real world happenings in the United States.
As the above synopsis indicates, Zach Morris only wanted to win for the sake of winning and the prize and privileges that came along with the position. But when that prize is taken away, he is piloted by nothing more than the desire to beat his opponent.
Many have charged that Donald Trump simply wanted to use a presidential run as leverage to get a better or more lucrative prize/deal with NBC for his show, The Apprentice.
Michael Moore wrote on his website, “Trump was unhappy with his deal as host and star of his hit NBC show, The Apprentice (and The Celebrity Apprentice). Simply put, he wanted more money. He had floated the idea before of possibly running for president in the hopes that the attention from that would make his negotiating position stronger. But he knew, as the self-proclaimed king of the dealmakers, that saying you’re going to do something is bupkus — DOING it is what makes the bastards sit up and pay attention. Trump had begun talking to other networks about moving his show. This was another way to get leverage — the fear of losing him to someone else — and when he ‘quietly’ met with the head of one of those networks, and word got around, his hand was strengthened. He knew then that it was time to play his Big Card. He decided to run for president.”
Biff Tannen in Back to the Future II
Back to the Future II writer, Bob Gale, used the time traveling elements of the film to predict what society might be like in the year 2015 – forecasting actual things that would come to fruition like the IMAX theater and the self-checkout line.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, Gale also confirmed that Donald Trump was the inspiration for the character, Biff Tannen, that he and director Robert Zebecks created.
Tannen resides in a penthouse atop a casino – similar to the Trump Plaza Hotel which opened its doors five years before the film premiered – earned his living in a questionable manner, and encouraged every citizen to call him “America’s greatest living folk hero.”
“We thought about it when we made the movie! Are you kidding?” Gale said. “You watch Part II again and there’s a scene where Marty confronts Biff in his office and there’s a huge portrait of Biff on the wall behind Biff, and there’s one moment where Biff kind of stands up and he takes exactly the same pose as the portrait? Yeah.”
Joe Pesci parodied Donald Trump as “Ronald Grump” in the Sesame Street All-Star 25th Birthday special back in 1994. Focusing on his desire to replace the street with high-rise condos, the villain is ultimately foiled by Oscar the Grouch.
While one would of course expect the content to be squeaky clean and completely safe for work, outtakes emerged which saw Pesci interacting with both Benny the Rabbit and Elmo that were decidedly dark and not something that either Sesame Street or Joe Pesci thought would ever see the light of day.
In one particular exchange, Pesci insinuates that he could essentially knock out Benny the Rabbit’s teeth so he could get a more satisfactory blow job from the puppet.
“We have never had such a violent, unbalanced celebrity on Sesame Street ever!” Elmo shouted at him. Pesci responded by spitting on him.
One can’t help but draw a similarities between Pesci’s interpretation of Trump, and the President’s behavior on the now infamous Access Hollywood tapes that saw him acting in a similarly rude and crude manner, stating, “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Rage Against the Machine’s “Sleep Now in the Fire”
In Rage Against the Machine’s Michael Moore-directed video for “Sleep Now in the Fire,” from their 1999 album, The Battle of Los Angeles, the band and the documentary filmmaker explore a dystopian society where greed and cronyism have ruined society.
In one particular scene that takes place outside of the New York Stock Exchange – and in real-life the guerilla performance shut down the financial institution for nearly half a day – a Donald Trump presidential supporter can be seen synced with the lyrics, “I’ll jail and bury those committed/And smother the rest in greed.”
While some have levied that Rage has prophetic abilities, they were actually just commenting on Trump’s first presidential campaign in 2000 as part of the Reform Party.
Although Trump eventually lost out on the nomination to Pat Buchanan at the time, he did echo remarks that would register with millions of people during the past election, stating, “In business and in life, people want to hear straight talk. We’re tired of being bullshitted by these moron politicians.”
In the episode “Bart to the Future,” Bart sees a vision of his future life where he has grown up to be a loser. In contrast, Lisa has become the first female president – telling one of her aides, “As you know, we’ve inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump.”
“The important thing is that Lisa comes into the presidency when America is on the ropes, and that is the condition left by the Trump presidency,” Simpsons writer Dan Greaney told The Hollywood Reporter. “What we needed was for Lisa to have problems that were beyond her fixing, that everything went as bad as it possibly could, and that’s why we had Trump be president before her.”
After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, the Simpsons used the phrase “Being Right Sucks” in a chalkboard gag for the episode “Havana Wild Weekend.”
The Bill James Historical Abstract
The Bill James Historical Abstract has been in print since 1985 and in considered the “holy book of baseball.”
In one particular passage, James is befuddled by Rafael Palmeiro’s Gold Glove victory in 1999 – an award given to the best defensive player in each league at all nine positions. He took umbrage with the fact that Palmeiro had only suited up and started at first for 28 games – with the rest as a designated hitter – and questioned how Palmeiro could be the best first baseman in the league when he wasn’t even the best first baseman on his own team.
James specifically took issue with the voting system.
“The larger point, it seems to me, is that a badly designed voting system will fail sometimes, no matter who votes. The Gold Glove is decided by what could be called an unconstrained plurality, meaning: 1. A voter can vote for anybody. 2. If the top vote-getter gets 15% of the vote, he wins, the same as if he had received 80%. A voting structure like this is an open invitation to an eccentric outcome. If the United States were to use a system like this to elect the president, the absolutely certain result would be that, within a few elections, someone like David Duke, Donald Trump, or Warren Beatty would be elected president. If you can win an election with 15% of the vote, sooner or later somebody will. An unconstrained plurality vote gives an opening to someone or something who has a strong appeal to a limited number of people.”
As NBC Sports noted of the comparison between James’ analysis and this years election, “The Republican Party had a WHOLE BUNCH of candidates (roughly the same number as first basemen in the American League in 1999. And Trump moved to the forefront by getting an unconstrained plurality, first in the 15-20 percent range, then higher, then higher. No matter where you stand on the Trump candidacy, it was this math that paved the way, and Bill saw it many years ago.”
Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America
Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, is told from his own perspective as a young child in an alternative history where Franklin Delano Roosevelt was defeated by Charles Lindbergh – of transcontinental aviation fame which made him a worldwide icon – who maintained that status despite being a known Anti-Semite.
As a tenured politician, FDR gave little consideration to Lindbergh’s bid, and actually relished in having him as his opposition.
“Roosevelt raised everyone’s spirits by his robust response on learning that his opponent was to be Lindbergh rather than a senator of the stature of Taft or a prosecutor as aggressive as Dewey or a big-time lawyer as smooth and handsome as Willkie,” Roth wrote. “When awakened at 4 a.m. to be told the news, he was said to have predicted from his White House bed, ‘By the time this is over, the young man will be sorry not only that he entered politics but that he ever learned to fly.'”
Following the election, The New Yorker reached out to Roth to gauge his opinions on the result.
“It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary president like Charles Lindbergh than an actual president like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man, the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’ ”
The writer also said that Trump was, “humanly impoverished” and “ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”
Black Mirror creator, Charlie Brooker, loves exploring the terrifying notion of “what if” scenarios as it relates to technology and society.
“The Waldo Moment” is the third episode of the second series of the show and focuses on a blue cartoon bear named Waldo who is beloved by the general public thanks to his antics on a children’s program. After a producer jokingly suggests that Waldo should compete against politicians in an upcoming election in the town of Stentonford, the humor quickly fades as the outrageous prospect becomes much more of a dangerous reality.
“He’s an anti-politics candidate who’s raucous and defensive, and that’s all he is, and he offers nothing,” said Brooker. “He insults everyone and they lap it up because they’re so sick of the status quo. And then you look at Trump…”
In speaking with Esquire, Brooker offered a continued explanation of the plot and the character.
“That was modeled off of Boris Johnson in the U.K., and I also worked on satirical comedy shows in the U.K. similar to The Daily Show, said Brooker. “And sometimes people would be like, ‘If only you guys were in charge.’ And I thought, ‘That would be awful. We’re just fucking idiots.’ It’s a combination of those two things. I was thinking about the anti-political mood that was going on. When ‘The Waldo Moment’ came out, people were saying he was too crude and people wouldn’t vote for something that offensive and witless. Then you look at somebody like Trump and you go, ‘Well, maybe we didn’t go far enough’ I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins. I keep expecting him to win.”
- Featured/Main Image: The Simpsons