Quick Take, The Transatlantic Twitter Life of the US Vice-Presidential Debate

In sharp contrast to the previous week’s unwieldy exchange between the two main candidates who cast the US in unfavorable light, the Vice Presidential debate elicited considered global policy debate that has been rare to find.

Granted, the primary purpose of the debates is to inform the American electorate. However, there is no getting around the US’s centrality to international security, political, knowledge and economic structures as Susan Strange described them.

There was fun to be had on Twitter by eyes on the other side of the Atlantic who churned out memes of the infamous fly and circulated images of Biden -Harris 2020 fly swatters.

On a morning when many were morbidly celebrating Eric Zemmour’s COVID-19 diagnosis (Zemmour being a reviled right wing talking head), and others were dreading Emmanuel Macron’s interview at 8pm as a herald of a fresh quarantine, Kamala Harris still snatched the third rank of trending topics on Twitter.

The larger narrative accompanying media discussions of Harris returned to her appraisal of the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Courrier International encapsulated the debate as a tense but civil and dominated by the pandemic.

For an international audience, the debate brought the most pertinent global public health issue back to the center of a vital international discussion on the global stakes of the US election. As much as COVID-19 is an outcome of global interdependence, it will likely only be resolved through the same globalizing forces that gave birth to it.

A barely audible sub-narrative amid Twitter noise also underscored the gender dynamic of the debate. Harris’s “I am speaking” assertion gained traction as a symbol of another global fight against casual sexism – “sexisme ordinaire”.

ABOVE: “Of Collegial exchange, a COVID-19 vaccination, and a fly”. A summary of the Twitter Reactions to the VP debate on French talking head Twitter.

That Harris, a woman of color, was at the center of a debate that injected a dose of lucidity and serious global health policy reflection into global debates on the US is an intriguing insight into an alternative to the machismo that drives the (pseudo?) realism of Trump-era international politics. Hopefully the debate’s small taste of a politics shorn of masculine fear, anxiety and competition opened up some space to revisit the emotions and structures that undergird incomptent governance.

Witnessing the eyes of jaded French journalists covering the US light up for the first time in four years as they finally had the chance to sink their teeth into reporting on the global public health infrastucture and the place of the US within it also makes one wonder about the crucial role that women’s leadership on a global scale could/should play in providing the kind of clear-eyed leasdership in the context of COVID-19 and beyond.

Within a few hours, however, we were back to name calling as President Trump taunted Senator Harris for being a “monster”. The light in the eyes of hopeful journalists after the Vice Presidential debate hopefully signals that another world is possible.


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