What a Circus

If you’re like me, you’ve probably had it with the 2016 presidential election. Call it election fatigue. Call it oversaturation by the media. Call it the triumph of mediocrity. Call it what you will. There’s a predictability to news coverage of presidential elections. Candidate says something. Social media responds. Network and cable news outlets analyze and interpret based on their own ideological leanings. Cable news outlets hire political operatives employed by candidates to press their candidate’s political view on panel discussion segments based on the quote from the candidate. Online news sites and print media columnists editorialize the comment, again, from their own/corporate political/ideological/financial point of view. Wash and repeat.

Is it any wonder that people have had enough? Especially in this year of race-baiting, dog whistle political posturing, people have reached the limit.

The problem with that, though, is that this might be the most fundamentally important election in our nation’s history. And we can’t afford to just sit back and not pay attention. Which is why Showtime’s The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth should be appointment television from now until election day. 

The Circus takes more of an inside look at the political process by following the candidates to their various campaign stops and intimately listening in as the candidates meet with their staff members, political media and the general public. Hosted by Bloomberg Politics and senior MSNBC political analysts Mark Halperin and John Heileman as well as George W. Bush political advisor Mark McKinnon, The Circus takes advantage of the political connections of the hosts to gain inside access to key meetings and interviews which happen on any given day during the campaign. Halperin and Heileman are the authors of Game Change, the post-mortem of the memorable 2008 election as well as 2012’s Game Change:  Double Down. Throughout the series, Halperin, Heileman and McKinnon do what they do best – observe the goings on with minimal comment. They are smart enough to let the camera do the heavy lifting in an almost cinema verite style in the grand tradition of political documentaries like Primary, The War Room and Medium Cool. And when they do speak to the candidates, their collective political weight triggers the candidates to respond in real time to the questions of the day. There are no screaming panel discussions, no biased media commentary during the hour. The Circus shows us the campaigns as they are, warts and all. 

The 2016 presidential campaign has been particularly significant. On the republican side, the carnival side show of Donald Trump’s entry into the race into what many thought would be a runaway landslide for Jeb Bush has been, from the start, reality television at its best. Call Donald Trump what you want (and believe me, I have), he excels at reality television elimination-style programming – and this is what this election has become. The whittling down from a race of sixteen also rans to the crowning of Donald Trump at the G.O.P. convention in Cleveland in July was an ever expanding nexus of personal attacks and insults, with little regard for actually debating policies and issues. More importantly, the behind-the-scenes, inside views of campaign events and rallies has given America a chance to witness many of the people who support Donald Trump in all their gun-loving, immigrant-hating, bigoted glory. Viewed from the lens of the camera behind the scenes, Trump’s rallies take on a far more menacing, rage-inducing feeling we haven’t seen in this country in a long time, if ever.

On the democratic side, The Circus has revealed a race which truly divided the democratic party. The legions of supporters of Bernie Sanders who fought for a new way in politics to avoid the inevitable ascension of Hillary Clinton to the 2016 democratic nomination for the presidency has been compelling television and illuminated the fundamental differences not only between the two candidates but also the giant political riffs in the country. The culminating convention in Philadelphia, complete with the drama of Sanders’ supporters, the star power of a parade of A-list celebrities and the megawatt speeches of Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and the president of the United States was a remarkable hour of television.

The presidential election of 2016 will go down as turning point in American history. And The Circus is the witness to that turning point. The Circus returns to television for the home stretch of this once-in-a-lifetime election on September 11th.