WASHINGTON — A nation that needed a laugh got at least a little chuckle, as a fly evaded the plexiglass dividers that separated Vice President Mike Pence from Sen. Kamala Harris of California during the vice presidential debate on Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, Utah. The fly then proceeded to take a star turn amid the talk of congressional relief packages and judicial confirmations.

The insect came to rest on the vice president’s short-cropped silver mane 1 hour and 13 minutes into the debate, as Pence was answering a question about racial justice. It lingered for a long minute or so, then flew away.

It is not known where the fly came from, and it is not known where the fly went. But judging by social media, many people were glad it had made its appearance.

Given the state of affairs, the bar for collective amusement is relatively low. An insect will do.

The fly arrived just as Pence was reasserting his and President Trump’s firm support for law enforcement officers. The fly got more attention than the answer, which made clear that Trump and Pence oppose the reforms, for example a ban on chokeholds, that racial justice advocates have been seeking. Harris and the man who would be her commander in chief, former Vice President Joe Biden, support such reforms.

By the time the moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, returned to Pence, the fly was gone. The vice president then proceeded to defend some of Trump’s more inflammatory statements on race.

Vice President Mike Pence listens to Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris with a fly on his head, during the vice presidential debate Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Patrick Semansky/AP)

Within minutes, the fly had been pressed into action by the Biden campaign, with a tweet that showed Biden sitting at a folding table holding a fly swatter and looking, a little roguishly, up at the ceiling. “Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly,” read the punning caption. The accompanying link opened a fundraising page.

Trump watched from the White House, having returned there after a weekend stay at the Walter Reed National Medical Center after being treated for COVID-19. Since returning home, he has been tweeting energetically. But as of the time of writing, he has not yet tweeted about the fly.

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Presumably, though, it did not please a president who once refused to hire John Bolton because of his mustache. The fly was not a sign of vulnerability, of course, but it was a surprise that alighted right on the vice presidential cranium — and stayed for quite a while. It can be fairly said that most Americans are tired of surprises, big and small. Especially surprises that carry disease.

As strange as the fly was, it was nothing compared to the time the sound cut out in a 1976 presidential debate between Gov. Jimmy Carter of Georgia and President Gerald Ford. An estimated 90 million people watched for the next 27 minutes without knowing what was going on, as the two candidates debated on a Philadelphia stage.

The fly could not be reached for comment.


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