What was lost when Ringling Bros. Left the Circus

The business of America is show business, as the saying goes. Show business has slowly crept up into American politics creating a boundary difficult to define. After all, American show business is a greater manifestation of imperialism than the American military. And there was no better show in the United States than the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth”. The show of both circuses ran from 1871 to 2017, certainly a Guinness world record.

It’s possible that the connection between politics and show business was clear when Ronald Regan, a moderately successful actor, was elected President of the United States. It is also possible that the connection was never as evident as when Donald J. Trump, a complete political neophyte, was elected President.

Why then should we be surprised when the rapper Kanye West announced, via Twitter of course, his candidacy for United States president? “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future,” he wrote. That his only credential for such an important position is to be married to Kim Kardashian, the most egregious money-making machine in the world, doesn’t seem to faze him in the least.

After Kardashian sold her stake in her beauty brand for $200 million, West declared, “I am so proud of my beautiful wife Kim Kardashian, for officially becoming a billionaire.” As for his lack of political expertise, West could claim that Donald Trump was as lacking as he is in political savvy, and that didn’t detract him from winning the presidency.

What Donald Trump had achieved, and that deserves our unqualified admiration, is his participation as the leading actor in The Apprentice, a reality TV show, originally aired in the U.S. in 2004 which turn into several international versions. Billed as “The Ultimate Job Interview” Trump made famous the catch phrase “You’re Fired” which would become his main political trademark. As of May 2020, 415 officials in his administration had been dismissed or had resigned. As Emily Nussbaum wrote in The New Yorker, “If The Apprentice didn’t get Trump elected it surely made him electable.”

Trump would be replaced in that role by actor and former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose biggest qualification for his job as governor was the size of his biceps, built for years by the most exhausting body-building techniques. Like Trump, Schwarzenegger blurred the boundary between politics and show business. Ronald Regan already said it, “Politics is just like show business. You have a hell of an opening, coast for a while, and then have a hell of a close.”

Which brings me back to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. which, implausible as it seemed, performed its final show on May 21, 2017, at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The world is losing “a place of wonder”, said Johnathan Lee Iverson, the circus’ ringmaster, a few days before the final performance. Thus ended a magnificent piece of American show business history and deprived one of its clowns of becoming a presidential candidate.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”