10. The Circus

10. The Circus

The Circus and the True Horror of the Unexpected


At the beginning of this year, political analysts Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, joined by former Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, set out to document the 2016 American Presidential Election Campaign. They had no idea what the fuck they were getting themselves into.

John Heilemann, Mark McKinnon and Mark Halperin, before the fear set in. (Showtime)

Every week or so, with some necessary hiatuses, these three men and the considerable team at Bloomberg Politics would go to work collating the most salient (and entertaining) information from the news cycle on each of the relevant candidates. Initially, that included pretty much every single person running for the GOP nomination and, on the Democratic front, really just Clinton and Sanders. Some of the most rewarding and unanticipated insights come from these early installments, like John Kasich’s avuncular charm when engaging with the press and learning what keeps Bernie Sanders’ involved in the race despite his recalcitrant disdain for the whole process, a lot of which is gleaned from interviews with his guileless wife Jane. Just as telling is the limited access allowed to others, with a noticeable disparity between how much screen time Clinton is afforded versus Sanders.

However, denying the true attraction of this show, even at such a harrowing time as this, would be a misguided enterprise, forfeiting the vitality and surreal pleasures at its core for the sake of retrospective amendment. This is a story, for better or worse, about Donald Trump, about the continual rise of a man many consider a blight not just on democracy but the very nature of public morality. Viewed as an antiquated term, The Circus is aptly named: people come for the clowns and jugglers but it’s the spectacle of a shackled bear, ready to break free and maul the entire crowd at a moment’s notice, that keeps everyone on tenterhooks.

After all we’ve been through this year, there’s still a perverse thrill in watching footage of Trump that, in a season over-saturated with quotes and ludicrous sound bites, seemed to fly under the radar. In the early running, it’s his repeated insistence at a rally that he’s doing exceptionally well with Evangelicals, a claim so transparent in its self-interest that I can’t honestly believe the resounding applause he receives afterwards. Then comes Trump’s frequent mocking of the media, most notoriously his deeply offensive ridicule of a disabled reporter which, by the way, Ann Coulter attempted to defuse by claiming that he wasn’t making fun of Serge Kovaleski specifically but, rather, just impersonating a “standard retard” because, y’know, she’s the fucking devil. Elsewhere, less horrifying but just as revealing, Trump simply adopts a haughty tone to show his distaste for what people have written about him, beginning some of his most inane ramblings with verbatim quotes from the press that you can tell are eating him up inside.

Donald Trump, as if you didn’t already fucking know. (Showtime)

In the face of all of this, it’s absolutely fascinating to watch Halperin, Heilemann and McKinnon all try to accept Trump on face value, to factor his volatile essence through their journalistic integrity and try to offer their informed opinions of a man who frequently wipes his arse with facts and figures. The cracks show infrequently but, when they do, they are splendid. Most delightful is watching Halperin and Heilemann dissect Trump’s rebuttal of Marco Rubio’s suggestion that tiny hands must mean a man has a tiny penis. The two analysts, men in their 50s, giggle as they anticipate hypothetical press releases by President Trump of this ilk:


Heilemann: “Trump to America: I’m hung like a bear.”


Halperin: “The Chinese have built a new weapon… It’s, uh, it’s called ‘The Big Dong’.”

Heilemann: “But it’s nothing like as big a my cock!”


To round out the international ramifications of this whole election cycle, Halperin spends one of the later episodes discussing Russia’s hacking of email servers and, eventually, trying to attain an interview with Julian Assange, whose frequent leaks of documents pertaining to the Democratic party’s innermost workings suggests an implicit support for Trump. The idea that a revolution could be so intently desired by such global figures becomes more and more unnerving as Assange’s and Russia’s influence over the election is made apparent.

Clinton supporters, coming to terms with the inevitable. (Reuters)


On the tail end of that thought, it’s the concept that so many would throw their support behind this childish, pigheaded and evidently ill-equipped demagogue that inspires such a wide range of overlapping emotions: anger, frustration, fear, bewilderment, straight-up fucking disbelief. Imagine then, if you can, watching the final installment of this series, several days after the race was called. It was an extreme and unrelenting act of self-flagellation.

The inevitable. (Reuters)

Like a horror movie that someone has already gone to great lengths to spoil, watching those votes come in and seeing the beleaguered faces of the idealist masses slowly crumple was a viscerally unpleasant, yet tragically inevitable, chore. No one honestly, even most of Trump’s supporters, thought a thing like this could happen. Half of us were devastated, half elated, and all were in a state of unwavering shock.


The Circus is available to stream on Stan.

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