After several calls to the insect’s publicists, Reluctant Habits had the good fortune of landing an exclusive interview with the fly that landed on Mike Pence’s head during the October 7, 2020 vice presidential debate. We normally don’t pay our subjects for interviews, but, given the newsworthy nature of this get, the fly insisted on a large bag of Domino Sugar before speaking with us. The fly is currently in negotiations with Simon & Schuster for a six figure book deal and has also recently taped a reality TV pilot called Life After Larva for Peacock TV. The fly spoke to us in a strange patois of English and buzzing. We did our best to transcribe the conversation so that humans could understand it.
Why did you decide to land on Mike Pence’s head last night?
BZZZZZ. BECAUZZZZE IT WAS THERE!
You were there for two minutes.
BZZZZZ. YES, THE PENZZZZZZZZZZZZZZE IS A DEPENDABLE STATUE. BZZZZZZZZZZZ.
Uh, he’s a living and breathing human being.
HE IZZZZZZ? BZZZZZZZZ. HE WAS STIFFER THAN THE BRIGHAM YOUNG MONUMENT I LANDED ON YEZZZZZZTERDAY. BZZZZZZ.
Did you detect any signs of COVID On Mr. Pence?
BZZZZZ. BZZZZ. I HAVE LARGE COMPOUND EYES THAT SEE EVERYTHING! THE WHITE HAIR WAS A NICE PLACE TO REST AFTER MUNCHING ON ROTTING CARRION!
You’re dodging the question, Mr. Fly. Although it’s true that Pence’s left eye was notably pink.
BZZZZZ. TWAZZZZZZ INDEED. YET STILL NOT AS APPETIZING AS THE RAT I FEAZZZZZZZTED ON IN THE BACKROOM WALLS OF KINGSBURY HALL. BZZZZZZZ.
Wait a minute. I thought they sanitized the place to prevent infection.
BZZZZZZ. WE FLIEZZZZZZZZ CAN GET IN ANYWHERE. MUCH LIKE OUR FRIEND THE COVID-19 VIRUZZZZZZZZZ. NOT EVEN PLEXIGLAZZZZZZZZ WILL STOP UZZZZZZZZZZ! BZZZZZZZZZ!
You’ve spoken directly with the virus?
BZZZZZZZZ. WHY YEZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!
Wow. Why didn’t you land on Kamalas’s head?
BZZZZZZZ. SHE WAZZZZZ NOT INFECTED WITH MY FRIEND THE COVID VIRUZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! BZZZZZZZZZZ. ALZO, SHE HAD A SOUL! BZZZZZZZZZZZZ. ALZZZZZZOOO, YOU FOOLISH HUMANS HAVE IT BACKWARDS! YOU CATCH MORE OF UZZZZZZZ WITH VINEGAR RATHER THAN HONEY. BZZZZZZZ!
Do you feel bad about distracting the American public from the real issues of this very important election?
BZZZZZZZ. NOOOOOO. THERE ARE SO MANY OF MY BROTHERS AND ZIZZZZZZZTERS. MORE OF UZZZZ THAN YOU. IT’S ABOUT TIME YOU PAID ATTENTION TO UZZZZZZZZ. BZZZZZZZZZZ.
Has celebrity changed you, Mister Fly?
BZZZZZZZ. MORE DECAYING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES TO ZPREAD MY ZEEED! BZZZZZZZZZ!! THE BEGINNING OF WORLDWIDE FLY DOMINATION! BZZZZZZZ!
You’re getting a tad megalomaniac there.
BZZZZZZZZZZ. WE ARE NO WORSE THAN YOUR FASCIST LEADERZZZZZZZZ. SUBMIT TO UZZZZZZZ NOW, HUMANZZZZZZZZZ!
On Tuesday, Andrew Yang dropped out of the 2020 presidential race. He was only able to crack 2.8% of the vote during the New Hampshire primary and a mere 1% of the Iowa Caucus votes. But Yang’s presence represented an outlier sincerity that was sui generis, a welcome reminder that the Democratic frontrunner this year can possess a genuine empathy for the American people that can be worn on one’s sleeve without apology. Yang filled the void left by Beto O’Rourke’s exit with his off-kilter sincerity. He was an inspiring force for the “Yang Gang,” a group of supporters who were just as passionate as “Bernie bros” and justifiably excited to see an Asian American represented in a vital election race. He was the lone non-white regular on the debate stage after Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, and Cory Booker dropped out of the race. And after Bong Joon-ho swept the Oscars on Sunday with Parasite, it seems a great letdown to take in the dawning reality that Yang won’t be participating in future debates. In an age in which Jack Dorsey and his crew of idiots upholds racism and hateful xenophobia on Twitter through ineffectual algorithms incapable of parsing nuance and intent, we truly needed more voices like Andrew Yang to set the record straight on a very real disease that ails us.
Yes, Yang, with his lack of necktie and his MATH pin always clipped to his lapel, was socially awkward at times. During the third democratic debate, when Yang introduced a raffle where ten families would receive a “freedom dividend” of $1,000 each month for a year (he later expanded this to thirteen families), he was received with bafflement and modest ridicule. But this seems to me unfair. Unlike other millionaires who entered the race for ignoble and narcissistic reasons (**clearing throat** Bloomberg **spastic and theatrical coughing**), Yang really wanted to solve our national ills with wildly original ideas. He believed that he could cure systemic racism with his universal basic income concept, providing purchasing power to minorities. While this was a batty idea and while his tax policy was more concerned with implementing a value-added tax rather than addressing income inequality, there was nevertheless something appealingly immediate about his position. Was it really any less crazy than finding the essential money for Medicare for All or Elizabeth Warren’s plan to forgive $1.6 trillion of student debt? Yang smartly recognized that one of our long-standing national ills requires a swift remedy and that mere lip service — the empty and cluelessly myopic white privilege that one sees prominently with Pete Buttigieg — won’t cut it.
Yang also had a refreshing sense of humor about his campaign. He sang “Don’t You Forget About Me” at a campaign rally. He crowd surfed at another rally. He even skateboarded before an appearance. Andrew Yang brought an instinctive sense of fun that seemed beyond most of the other candidates, but his heart seemed to be in the right place. He never came across as wingnut as Marianne Williamson or as stiff as Tom Steyer or as cavalierly hostile to voters on the fence as Joe Biden. Even if you couldn’t see him as President, it was almost impossible not to like the guy.
Yang’s willingness to commit to positions of empathy and understanding in provocatively inclusive ways was one of his great strengths. Last September, when comedian Shane Gillis was hired by Saturday Night Live as a regular and fired after repugnantly racist remarks about Chinese Americans were discovered on YouTube, it was Yang who called for a dialogue and a second chance for Gillis. Yang remarked, “I thought that if I could set an example that we could forgive people, particularly in an instance where, in my mind, it was in comedic context or gray area, that I thought it would be positive.”
Yang didn’t really have the opportunity to display the full range of these subtleties. But we did get one moment during his final debate when he calmly responded to Buttigieg shallowly grandstanding about the collective exhaustion of people outside Washington: “Pete, fundamentally, you are missing the question of Donald Trump’s victory. Donald Trump is not the cause of all of our problems. And we’re making a mistake when we act like he is. He is the symptom of a disease that has been building up in our communities for years and decades. And it is our job to get to the harder work of curing the disease. Most Americans feel like the political parties have been playing ‘You lose, I lose, You lose, I lose’ for years. And do you know who’s been losing this entire time? We have. Our communities have. Our communities’ way of life has been disintegrating beneath our feet.”
While there’s certainly a very strong argument that present frontrunner Bernie Sanders has united variegated people by highlighting their stories, Yang had a way, unlike the other candidates, of going directly to the underlying heart of aggravated Americans in the heartland who altered their votes in the 2016 election after being fed up after years of condescending vacuity. It is them who the Democratic candidate must speak to. Yang’s inclusive approach to empathy seems well beyond Buttigieg’s platitudes, but it appears to be increasingly adopted by Amy Klobuchar (which partially accounts for her third place win in New Hampshire).
Andrew Yang opened up a promising road for people of color to speak to voters who are still knowingly or unknowingly practicing systemic racism. And for this not insignificant contribution, he’ll have a place in my heart. America may not have been ready in 2020 for Yang’s approach to empathy, forgiveness, understanding, and inclusiveness. But this nation will almost certainly be prepared for this in future presidential elections. It will take some time, but I think history will see that Yang was ahead of the curve.
Last night’s Democratic primary debate was a travesty in moderation and an affront to journalism. It demonstrated that the fine line between assumptive zealotry and objectivity is taking its cues from social media and being shamefully eroded.
PHILLIP: So Senator Sanders, I do want to be clear here. You’re saying that you never told Senator Warren that a woman could not win the election? SANDERS: That is correct. PHILLIP: Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?
I must confess that CNN’s Abby Phillip’s “moderation” in last night’s Democratic presidential debate angered me so much that it took me many hours to get to sleep. It was a betrayal of fairness, a veritable gaslighting, a war on nuance, a willful vitiation of honor, a surrender of critical thinking, and a capitulation of giving anyone the benefit of the doubt. It was the assumptive guilt mentality driving outrage on social media ignobly transposed to the field of journalism. It fed into one of the most toxic and reprehensible cancers of contemporary discourse: that “truth” is only what you decide to believe rather than carefully considering the multiple truths that many people tell you. It enabled Senator Warren to riposte with one of her most powerful statements of the night: “So can a woman beat Donald Trump? Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost ten elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they have been in are the women. Amy and me.”
Any sensible person, of course, wants to see women thrive in political office. And, on a superficial level, Warren’s response certainly resonates as an entertaining smackdown. But when you start considering the questionable premise of political success being equated to constant victory, the underlying logic behind Warren’s rejoinder falls apart and becomes more aligned with Donald Trump’s shamefully simplistic winning-oriented rhetoric. It discounts the human truth that sometimes people have to lose big in order to excel at greatness. If you had told anyone in 1992 that Jerry Brown — then running against Bill Clinton to land the Democratic presidential nomination — would return years later to the California governorship, overhaul the Golden State’s budget so that it would shift to billions in surplus, and become one of the most respected governors in recent memory, nobody would have believed you. Is Abraham Lincoln someone who we cannot trust anymore because he had run unsuccessfully for the Illinois House of Representatives — not once, but twice — and had to stumble through any number of personal and political setbacks before he was inaugurated as President in 1861?
Presidential politics is far too complicated for any serious thinker to swaddle herself in platitudes. Yet anti-intellectual allcaps absolutism — as practiced by alleged “journalists” like Summer Brennan last night — is the kind of catnip that is no different from the deranged glee that inspires wild-eyed religious zealots to stone naysayers. There is no longer a line in the sand between a legitimate inquiry and blinkered monomania. And the undeniable tenor last night — one initiated by Phillip and accepted without question by Warren — was one of ignoble simplification.
Whether you like Bernie or not, the fact remains that Phillip’s interlocutory move was moral bankruptcy and journalistic corruption at the highest level. It was as willfully rigged and as preposterously personal as the moment during the October 13, 1988 presidential debate when Bernard Shaw — another CNN reporter — asked of Michael Dukakis, “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”
But where Shaw allowed Dukakis to answer (and allowed Dukakis to hang himself by his own answer), Phillip was arguably more outrageous in the way in which she preempted Sanders’s answer. Phillip asked Bernie a question. He answered it. And then she turned to Warren without skipping a beat and pretended as if Sanders had not answered it, directly contradicting his truth. Warren — who claims to be a longtime “friend” of Sanders — could have, at that point, said that she had already said what she needed to say, as she did when she issued her statement only days before. She could have seized the moment to be truly presidential, as she has been in the past. But she opted to side with the gaslighting, leading numerous people on Twitter to flood her replies with snake emoji. As I write this, #neverwarren is the top trending topic on Twitter.
The Warren supporter will likely respond to this criticism by saying, with rightful justification, that women have contended with gaslighting for centuries. Isn’t it about time for men to get a taste of their own medicine? Fair enough. But you don’t achieve gender parity by appropriating and weaponizing the repugnant moves of men who deny women their truth. If you’re slaying dragons, you can’t turn into the very monsters you’re trying to combat. The whole point of social justice is to get everyone to do better.
After the debate, when Bernie offered his hand to Warren, she refused to shake it — despite the fact that she had shaken the hands of all the other candidates (including the insufferable Pete Buttigieg). And while wags and pundits were speculating on what the two candidates talked about during this ferocious exchange, the underlying takeaway here was the disrespect that Warren evinced to her alleged “friend” and fellow candidate. While it’s easy to point to the handshake fiasco as a gossipy moment to crack jokes about — and, let’s face the facts, what political junkie or armchair psychologist wouldn’t be fascinated by the body language and the mystery? — what Warren’s gesture tells us is that disrespect is now firmly aligned with denying truth. It isn’t enough to gaslight someone’s story anymore. One now has to strip that person of his dignity.
Any pragmatic person understands that presidential politics is a fierce and cutthroat business and that politicians will do anything they need to do in order to win. One only has to reread Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes or Robert A. Caro’s Lyndon B. Johnson volumes to comprehend the inescapable realpolitik. But to see the putatively objective system of debate so broken and to see a candidate like Warren basking in a cheap victory is truly something that causes me despair. Because I liked Warren. Really, I did. I donated to her. I attended her Brooklyn rally and reported on it. I didn’t, however, unquestionably support her. Much as I don’t unquestionably support Bernie. One can be incredibly passionate about a political candidate without surrendering the vital need for critical thinking. That’s an essential part of being an honorable member of a representative democracy.
Bias was, of course, implicit last night in such questions as “How much will Medicare for All cost?” One rarely sees such concern for financial logistics tendered to, say, the estimated $686 billion that the United States will be spending on war and defense in 2020 alone. Nevertheless, what Abby Phillip did last night was shift tendentiousness to a new and obscene level that had previously been unthinkable. When someone offers an answer to your question, you don’t outright deny it. You push the conversation along. You use the moment to get both parties to address their respective accounts rather than showing partiality.
This is undeniably the most important presidential election in our lifetime. That it has come to vulgar gaslighting rather than substantive conversation is a disheartening harbinger of the new lows to come.