ON OCTOBER 9, 1994, “Sideshow Bob Roberts,” the fifth episode of The Simpsons’ sixth season—the one where a convicted felon runs for Mayor of Springfield—aired for the first time. Even for a program with an impressive track record of prescience, this particular episode eerily presages the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.
The eponymous Sideshow Bob, voiced with charming menace by Kelsey Grammer, is the former sidekick of TV star Krusty the Klown and a staunch Republican. When we first see Bob, he is in prison for attempted murder. “A crime I didn’t even commit,” he laments, in a payphone call to the Rush Limbaugh-styled shock jock Birch Barlow. “Do they award Nobel Prizes for attempted chemistry? Do they?”
Barlow organizes a campaign to pardon Sideshow Bob, which is granted by Mayor Quimby, the Ted Kennedy-esque pol who, as Hillary Clinton has been known to, shamelessly blows with the wind. Bob then runs as a Republican against the incumbent Quimby in the mayoral election, and somehow wins. His triumph does not last long, however, as Bart and Lisa trick Bob into confessing to election fraud—by appealing to his over-inflated ego. In the end, Sideshow Bob is doomed by his own narcissism.
Our real-life presumptive GOP nominee has never been convicted of a crime, much less served time (although some of his dealings in Atlantic City were probably unlawful). Nevertheless, the parallels are uncanny.
1. Sideshow Bob is known for his distinctive head of hair.
Bob’s is a red mop that seems to defy gravity and could not possibly be real.
Trump’s is an orange mop that seems to defy physics and could not possibly be real.
2. Sideshow Bob is egregiously unfit to hold public office.
Bob is, quite literally, a clown.
Trump has been called many synonyms of clown by any number of pundits on both sides of the aisle. On these pages, Sean Beaudoin begins his “Worst Person in America: Donald Trump” essay by calling him a clown. The front page of the New York Daily News carried the headline “CLOWN RUNS FOR PRESIDENT” when Trump announced, and refers to him as a clown regularly. Seth Meyers last month called him “a fucking clown.” Marco Rubio said of Trump, point blank: “He’s a clown.” Sideshow Donald, indeed.
3. Sideshow Bob’s main selling point is his celebrity.
In the Republican Party meeting held in the Dracula castle, C. Montgomery Burns explains the rationale for Bob’s selection thus: “If we hope to defeat this Joe Quimby, we need a candidate with name recognition and media savvy—a true leader who’ll do exactly as he’s told.”
Trump has parlayed his own name recognition and media savvy into two billion dollars of what is effectively free advertising on the various news channels. Billion, with a “b.” Which may be about two billion more than his total net worth.
4. Sideshow Bob has no platform and no policy positions, but is very entertaining. When he is pressed for details, he ridicules his opponents.
In his appearance at the elementary school, Bob uses his clown skills to full effect, portraying Quimby as a “flip-flopper” who “doesn’t know if he’s coming or going.” Everyone is amused at his clown-school antics. In the mayoral debate, Barlow asks a question suggesting a board member named Les Weinin was critical of Bob’s lack of experience; Bob quips, to rousing applause, “I’d say that Les Weinin should do more thinkin’ and less whinin’!”
When pressed for details, Trump verbally kneecaps those who do the pressing, either griefing opponents on Twitter, Don Ricklesing them during the debates, or, more ominously, blacklisting the media outlets for which they work. This has been effective because Trump can be pretty funny (if you like mean-spirited humor). Thing is, this is a campaign for the job of World’s Most Powerful Person. It’s not Last Comic Standing.
5. Revenge is a motivating factor for Sideshow Bob.
The first thing that Bob does as Mayor is ensure that the Matlock Expressway runs through the Simpsons’ house, to exact vengeance upon his nemesis Bart Simpson. “Now, I am a fair man,” Bob says. “You will have 72 hours to vacate. At that time we will blow up your house and any remaining Simpsons.”
Trump has already stated his willingness to use the presidency to settle personal scores. Does anyone doubt he would be as ruthlessly self-serving as Sideshow Bob? Trump is about Trump—first, second, and third.
6. GOP voters all seem to recognize that Sideshow Bob is a lousy candidate, but they vote for him anyway because he’s the Republican nominee.
In the voting booth, Krusty the Klown explains his thinking: “Well, he framed me for armed robbery, but man, I’m aching for that upper-class tax cut.” Homer Simpson votes for Bob even though the clown wants to murder his son.
Similarly, the Republican establishment, even including Trump’s early supporters like Chris Christie and “Dr.” Ben Carson, seem to grasp the awfulness of Donald Trump, and yet endorses him anyway. Party leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell took their time issuing formal endorsements, true, and appear disgusted by having to capitulate—but not disgusted enough to reverse course. This may be changing, but I’m not holding my breath.
7. In the end, Sideshow Bob is undone by his tragic flaw: narcissism.
At the voter fraud trial, Bart cleverly accuses Birch Barlow of masterminding the scheme to rig the election. Bob is unable to stand anyone else taking credit for his own genius—even if doing so spares him a return to prison. He confesses to the crime, decreeing that he is the only one smart enough to pull off such a trick: “Only I could have executed such a masterpiece of electoral fraud. And I have the records to prove it! Here, just look at these [binders and floppy disks], each one a work of Machiavellian art.”
When asked why he did what he did, Bob tells it like it is, without a whiff of political correctness: “Because you need me,” he says. “Your guilty conscience may force you to vote Democratic, but deep down inside you secretly long for a cold-hearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king.”
There is a case to be made for making Trump the King of America, which lofty post he is thought to aspire to. As for The Donald’s ego, no less an authority than David Brooks, conservative columnist for the New York Times, explains Trump’s textbook narcissism:
[T]here is a well-developed literature on narcissism that tracks with what we have seen of Trump. By one theory narcissism flows from a developmental disorder called alexithymia, the inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. Sufferers have no inner voice to understand their own feelings and reflect honestly on their own actions.
Unable to know themselves, or truly love themselves, they hunger for a never-ending supply of admiration from outside. They act at all times like they are performing before a crowd and cannot rest unless they are in the spotlight.
A mental health professional of my acquaintance, whose name I will not reveal here, believes that Trump has slowly become unhinged. He’s headed for a psychotic break, she predicts, at which point he’ll do something really crazy: whip out his supposedly-not-as-tiny-as-his-fingers penis, physically assault someone, use a more, um, hip-hop-friendly word next time he salutes “my African American” at his rally. At which point, even the hardline Trumpsters will be forced to concede that their Emperor’s wearing invisible Armani, and Hillary will win the White House in a Reagan-in-’84 landslide.
At least, that is the hope. Episodes of The Simpsons end happily; it is a comedy, after all. In the real world, anything is possible. Would it really be that much of a surprise if President-Elect Donald Trump began his victory speech like this: