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Fly will vote

| Thursday, October 15, 2020

The winner of the first two debates in this election cycle — the presidential debate on Sept. 29 and then the vice presidential debate on Oct. 7 — was the fly that landed on Vice President Mike Pence’s head, and the loser was the American voter. 

The vice presidential debate occurred about a week after what most people can agree was the worst debate in recent history between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. It was basically 90 minutes of interruptions, anger and lies to the American people, who walked away learning next to nothing about either of the candidate’s plans or specific visions for the future, and instead with a higher blood pressure and an unpleasant feeling about the political climate we’re living in. 

Although Joe Biden attempted to tell us his plans a few times throughout the debate, he was consistently interrupted by Donald Trump or was put on defense for attacks both personal and political. We saw the President fail to condemn white supremacy and fail to say that he would accept the election results … two softball questions which should have immediate answers. We saw, for the first time in American history, a presidential party nominee tell the incumbent president, “Will you shut up, man?” We watched the President, who rarely wears a mask and consistently holds large campaign rallies, seemingly make fun of his opponent for wearing a mask and following CDC guidelines just days before he himself was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19.

Overall, I have to agree with the statement that this debate was a “hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.” It was somehow easier to watch the nearly ten-person debates during the Democratic primary than it was to watch this two-person debate. The true winners were perhaps the people who didn’t watch at all. 

Compared to the presidential debate, the vice presidential debate was calmer and more polite — a good representation of the contrasts between the personalities of Trump and Pence. Mike Pence and Kamala Harris are on presidential tickets with individuals who would be two of the oldest presidents in history, are are bound to be looked at more closely and with greater scrutiny.

There were a few memorable moments from this debate, including Harris referring to the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 as “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” a line which had a substantial impact as she spoke from behind a layer of plexiglass separating her from the vice president whose boss had tested positive for the virus just a few days earlier. There was also the historical significance of the first woman of color to be on a presidential ticket going back and forth with the Vice President on the topics of abortion, racial injustice and policing. 

Although it may have felt like a respite for viewers at home from the utter mess that was the presidential debate a week earlier, I don’t believe this vice presidential debate moved the needle much. In fact, what generated the most buzz from the night was the fly that landed on Mike Pence’s head and stayed there for around two minutes — lending the internet plenty of time to produce meme after meme, and even the Biden campaign to almost immediately monetize the moment with “Truth Over Flies” fly swatters (they sold 35,000 swatters within just a few hours).

According to the NYU Institute of Mathematical Sciences, the fly that landed on the head of the Vice President during the debate received 29% more mentions on Twitter than Pence, Harris, Biden or Trump. After the debate, the Biden campaign redirected the URL “flywillvote.com” to “iwillvote.com,” where voters could check to see if they were registered to vote. The fly flew away after two minutes, being the only one onstage to know when its two minutes were up (although clearly failing to adhere to social distancing guidelines). 

I’ll admit that “Flygate” gave me a much needed laugh in the midst of an otherwise civil yet still unsettling VP debate and the dumpster fire that was the presidential debate. However, the fact that jokes about a bug that landed in the Vice President’s hair was talked about (at least online) more than the actual candidates themselves makes me wonder how much these debates actually do anything besides make a lot of people angry.

Are many voters still undecided this close to the election involving one of the most controversial and polarizing political figures in modern American history? Have these televised debates really changed anyone’s mind? Looking at the 2020 Democratic primary, I would say not really: Biden was never the most talked about at any of the debates, yet he still became the party’s nominee. 

With news that the next presidential debate, which was originally scheduled to take place on Oct. 15, had been cancelled as a result of the president declining to participate in a virtual debate after his COVID-19 diagnosis, the future remains unclear. As the political climate continues to disappoint and disgust, I can only hope for the end of this trend of American voters feeling like they’re the ones who are losing, and that politics and our political leaders change to reflect the best in our country, rather than the worst. 

I also hope that fly enjoyed its two minutes of political fame.   

Megumi Tamura is a first year in the Gateway Program. She is originally from Ridgewood, New Jersey, and enjoys going to museums, watching political debates and eating Jersey bagels. She can be reached at [email protected] or @megtamura on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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