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Andrew Yang and His Gang

The first time I wrote about 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, I said he “has about as much chance of becoming the Democrat nominee as this author does of becoming the UFC Heavyweight Champion.” And while Yang’s chances of facing President Donald Trump in the general election are still slim, the betting lines have the tech millionaire and political newcomer ahead of Kirsten Gillibrand and just behind Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren. That’s made this author, at least, look excessively dismissive.

What happened? First, Yang appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience. Other candidates might covet appearances on The View or profiles in Vanity Fair but the kickboxer cum stand-up comedian cum actor cum UFC commentator cum cheerful DMT evangelist’s podcast rivals the reach of talk shows and dwarfs that of magazines. After Yang’s appearance, interest in his campaign picked up.

Yang had already gained admirers in the so-called Intellectual Dark Web for his focus on technological solutions for economic ills. He’d been interviewed by [1], and had written for [2], the online magazine Quillette before his Joe Rogan Experience appearance. It was the podcast, however, that brought him to the attention of “Frog Twitter.”

To steal a line from Christopher Hitchens, I risk immersing myself in a bog of embarrassment by trying to define Frog Twitter. Its inhabitants tend to be young, male, white, and nationalistic, but also less fixated on race than the alt-right and more cynical, literary, esoteric, and mischievous. They love to walk the line between satire and seriousness, to get a reaction as with other trolls, but also to deconstruct what they see as artificial forms of social meaning.

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Somehow, the frogs discovered a tweet in which Yang discussed [3] “low birth rates and white men dying from substance abuse and suicide.” It pleased them that a politician was discussing the troubles of white communities, and it tickled them that it was an Asian-American Democrat. “How come this guy is talking about our issues and Trump isn’t?” they asked among themselves.

Many of those who energetically created pro-Trump memes in 2016 have since turned on their man. He has not built the wall, he is too attached to Israel, and it was more fun to support a rebel candidate than it has been to defend a sitting president. Depressed by the thought that even their supposedly radical outsider has become, in most substantive terms, a generic Republican, they have become more explicitly anti-political.

Yang’s campaign was built on his concern that increasing automation will eliminate jobs and drive Americans out of their economic and social spheres of life. He fears that if unemployment and underemployment spread, people will

degenerate into self-destructive and antisocial behaviors. You can see that in the surge of suicides among middle-aged Americans around the country that have brought down our country’s life expectancy over the last two years—and the fact that eight Americans are dying of opiates every hour. 

One of Yang’s proposals to avert these trends is a “Freedom Dividend”—or what is more commonly referred to as Universal Basic Income—of a guaranteed $1,000 a month to every American. This policy proposal is what has truly excited the phenomenon known as the “Yang Gang.” If America is destined to decline, they’ve concluded in a fit of cynical exuberance, they might [4] as well [5] at least [6] get some money out of it. Some [7] of them [8] are a little more calculated, seeing the potential to take their thousand a month and spend more time on creative and social endeavors with less of a need to work. But most enjoy it as a funny, irreverent meme, raising a middle finger to the political establishment.

Yang’s face soon began to blossom across Twitter: new, warm, innocent, and, yes, generous. In my first article on Yang, I wrote that his campaign would suffer because he is uncharismatic. It is this lack of charisma that has made #yanggang memes so entertaining. The idea of this mild-mannered software nerd dancing with stacks of hundred dollar bills on the “Yang Yacht” is so absurd that it is genuinely funny. As other Democratic hopefuls play up their love of rap or youthful fondness for marijuana in a desperate attempt to get some cool kid credibility, casting Yang as some sort of playboy works, consciously or otherwise, as a satire on modern electoral campaigning.

The idea that online memes got Trump elected was always an exaggeration. He had name recognition with the general public and a base that was hungry for his promises. Yang has neither, and thus his chances, while not nonexistent, remain minimal. Still, few though his admirers might be, their energy and creativity have thrust him onto the national stage. His campaign has earned enough donations [9], seemingly overnight, for him to join seasoned candidates in the televised debates. “You have to admit,” tweeted [10] liberal pundit Matthew Yglesias, “that ‘Yang Gang’ is fun to say and write.” Yang might not get elected, and his new fans might not end up happy even if he is, but their memes have changed the landscape of yet another election, creating a fresh platform for surreal and cynical humor.

The irony is that as much as the success of #yanggang is predicated on anti-political satire, Yang’s presence among the Democratic hopefuls might bring more political substance to the debates. Yang, who has pulled off a fairly nimble balancing act by embracing his newfound prominence while denouncing the racists among his admirers, has more interesting ideas than a Kamala Harris-esque cog in the D.C. machine or an astroturfed nonentity like Beto O’Rourke. If he can direct Democratic discourse away from facile we’re-not-Trumpism and towards more significant themes like automation and opioid deaths, that will itself be an achievement.

Donald Trump’s staff, meanwhile, should be concerned about the loss of some of their more energetic and imaginative online supporters. No, Frog Twitter did not swing the 2016 presidential election. It is not as though Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have hopped aboard the Yang Yacht. Still, the ability of young, scornful online memesters to sway media narratives, out of proportion with their numbers, had at least some effect in elevating and energizing Trump’s campaign. Now, many of the same people are contrasting the old, slow, rusted Trump Train with the sleek, shiny, welcoming Yang Yacht. Quite apart from anything else, it’s a chance to make newer, fresher jokes. Old memes get stale, and Trump, who is still barking about witch hunts, binge-watching Fox News, and getting little done, should realize that he is in danger of becoming one.

Ben Sixsmith is a British writer living in Poland who has written for Quillette, the Spectator USA, the Catholic Herald, Public Discourse, and Unherd.

27 Comments (Open | Close)

27 Comments To "Andrew Yang and His Gang"

#1 Comment By Nasrin Tijerina On March 19, 2019 @ 1:58 am

automation* instead atomization.
Otherwise, a fantastic article.

#2 Comment By 11bravo On March 19, 2019 @ 2:00 am

UBI/Universal Basic income as expressed by Charles Murray in his short book means, eliminating ALL government payouts to citizens in the form of welfare, medical, and SSI benefits of any kind. No school loans, daycare etc..
You get 60k every year (which is close to Gov payouts currently), from the time you are 18. PERIOD!
It is up to you to make your life work in ALL areas. The 60k will be scaled back as you go past 60k in salary.
So this give them 1k a month crap, and all the government bennies is NOT the real UBI. Look it up.

#3 Comment By Christian Chuba On March 19, 2019 @ 7:06 am

He actually is an interesting candidate in that he is concerned about real issues and not obsessed with identity politics. As a Conservative I know that I am supposed to think that automation will create different jobs but … watch ‘Humans need not apply’. It’s sober but not Luddite.

Don’t know if Universal income is the answer, perhaps modifying the tax code to not penalize human labor vs automation is a good idea. Our tax code is shaped by lobbyists, it is not currently market based.

#4 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On March 19, 2019 @ 8:44 am

Saw Mr. Yang on Carlson’s show. Interesting guy. It has to be said, however, that “Universal Basic Income” is old hat and simply a new name for the old George McGovern-sponsored “Guaranteed Annual Income.” Multiple issues abound, however, including the obvious one: Who decides who gets how much and how are the numbers arrived at?Another proposal that has been floated about is the concept of so-called “seed money”: Upon attaining the age of 21 everybody gets a check for $20K (subject to annual inflation) on a one-time-only basis from Uncle Sam with the suggestion that they spend the money wisely. Don’t know how the numbers break down but the latter proposal may make more financial sense than the former.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 19, 2019 @ 9:03 am

“He has not built the wall, he is too attached to Israel, and it was more fun to support a rebel candidate than it has been to defend a sitting president. Depressed by the thought that even their supposedly radical outsider has become, in most substantive terms, a generic Republican, they have become more explicitly anti-political.”

It is not that I moved from the president, but clearly he has moved from where I stand. But the supposed stalemate is far better than what would have occurred had we chosen any other candidate.

**** all of this business with Israel is troublesome and it far more aggressive than I thought it would be or should be. And as someone who leans in the direction of scripture, I have to say I am certain my life with Christ is not dependent on supporting Israel’s every ambition.

——————-

I am curious why only a thousand dollars. By getting rid of various social programs, I think the amount of gifting to the US citizen could be substantially higher. I think I got as high as giving every US citizen upwards of 1 million dollars per per family or person. When I first hear $1000.00 I smirked, instinctively – that’s a very cheap sell out.

Laugh.

Sure technology could save a lot of money, cut bureaucracy, but you would have ameliorate the loss of governments jobs somehow, well you don’t have to but then you have to buy off the fed union(s).

The president may be gone, but the agenda remains the same and as Dr. Oakshott once quipped (paraphrased),

“No such thing as a movement conservative. And movement of required is considerate.”

[11]

Everything about the liberal and democratic mind to change is haphazard and poorly considered. They consider every moral issue has a policy prescription — and that simply is not the case.

#6 Comment By polistra On March 19, 2019 @ 9:21 am

UBI is the exact opposite of a “solution” for inequality. UBI is a way for tech barons to massage their infinitely monstous egos while they watch Deplorables die en masse.

Other TAC writers are beginning to understand this basic point. Inequality is NOT about money. Inequality is about USEFULNESS. Men need to WORK. Men need to be USEFUL. Men need to MAKE THINGS.

The men who fell for Trump’s lies are in trouble because their USEFUL jobs disappeared.

#7 Comment By dk On March 19, 2019 @ 10:13 am

He talks about automation, not atomization.

#8 Comment By Kirt Higdon On March 19, 2019 @ 10:36 am

I’d recommend reading Yang’s book The War on Ordinary People for a detailed description of how the UBI would be implemented and financed. The figure is the bare minimum to put an individual over the official poverty line and would be subject to inflation adjustment. It would not be phased out if you started earning because he doesn’t wish to make it a disincentive to work. I’m not a member of the Yang gang and would have to know a lot more about his position on a lot of other things before I would vote for him in a general election. I might vote for him in the Democratic primary simply because he has an interesting and maybe useful idea and seems preferable to any other Demo candidate, Tulsi Gabbard possibly excepted.

#9 Comment By Kent On March 19, 2019 @ 10:54 am

A Universal Basic Income is a terrible solution. People on welfare essentially have a basic income. How is that working out for them?

I’d support job guarantee. Require people to contribute to society if they want money. Give them basic skills. Let their children see they are expected to work.

#10 Comment By John Gruskos On March 19, 2019 @ 11:48 am

Closed borders + UBI funded by wealth tax = good

Open borders + UBI funded by VAT = bad

#11 Comment By Scott in MD On March 19, 2019 @ 12:31 pm

Kent-

People in Alaska essentially have a basic income. How is that working out for them? They seem to have basic skills, and they seem to be showing their children they are expected to work…

#12 Comment By Christian Chuba On March 19, 2019 @ 1:41 pm

People are getting too fixated on his UBI proposal. He is really focusing on the pending disruption to the labor force brought on by a leap in AI and robotics. If you eliminate most jobs in the transportation sector because of self-driving trucks and other automation, it will create another dust ball.

Andrew Yang strikes me as a pragmatist, if there is an alternative to UBI, I’m certain he would embrace it.

#13 Comment By Quizman On March 19, 2019 @ 1:52 pm

//A Universal Basic Income is a terrible solution. People on welfare essentially have a basic income. How is that working out for them?//

Yang had a detailed explanation of his ‘freedom dividend’ on the Joe Rogan podcast as well as on his website. Basically, the $1000/- is not enough to subsist on, but provides sufficient money for a starting point (e.g. medicines, basic clothes, food). As he has repeated many times, this is an idea from Milton Friedman in that it is a market based solution.

The $1000/- gets spent quickly by the consumers for basic necessities and ends up propping the C part of the GDP. More importantly, there is little administrative overhead since everyone, including billionaires get the $1000/- and therefore, it eliminates a lot of paperwork. Yes, the billionaires also get taxed higher to support the Freedom Dividend.

Also, it replaces all other welfare measures that have been notoriously inefficient.

Some commentators have assumed that UBI is a replacement for work. It is not so.

#14 Comment By Nelson On March 19, 2019 @ 2:38 pm

A Universal Basic Income is a terrible solution. People on welfare essentially have a basic income. How is that working out for them?

Most public welfare recipients only receive them temporarily. I’d say it works fairly well as a safety net. That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems, one of the most significant of which is benefits go away once you start earning above a certain amount. There are situations where a raise at work could cause you to lose benefits, such as healthcare or housing subsidies, thus making your actual income lower. The “universal” part of UBI tries to fix this problem by giving a particular dollar amount to everyone (or at least phase it out in a way that you’re never worse off for earning more).

That doesn’t mean I’m in favor of UBI, but at least it’s worth being part of the conversation to add new ideas to fixing real problems.

#15 Comment By Kouros On March 19, 2019 @ 2:41 pm

UBI is really not necessary. A better, more consolidated safety net would carry Americans further: medical coverage + unemployment insurance + welfare.

Finding meaning is and will continue to be a challenge.

But the sustainability of the US should be up for discussion as well.

#16 Comment By George On March 19, 2019 @ 3:07 pm

I saw him on Tucker Carlson. I thought the interview was interesting and refreshing to hear actual issues debate. I checked out his web site and was put-off by his stance on the 2A. I am for liberty and individual freedoms and I stand with the U.S. Constitution and Bill of a rights.

His United cereal Basic anchor me idea looks like a re-run, but if his approach is different and does not discourage work there might be some real interest. Our tax code punishes work. Encouraging work and providing incentives would be preferable. More work, more labor, more tax revenue.

#17 Comment By JonF On March 19, 2019 @ 3:36 pm

You can’t replace Medicare/Medicaid with a UBI because you have no idea what a person’s health needs will be. They may be nominal, they may be catastrophic. You9still going to need some firm of universal health coverage to handle that.

#18 Comment By PRD On March 19, 2019 @ 5:10 pm

Interesting that this article seems to focus more on Mr. Yang’s UBI proposal and how some of his writings seem to appeal to certain sections of the alt-right than the reasons for Mr. Yang’s UBI proposal which relates to the impact AI and increasing automation and use of robots is going to dramatically change the job and life prospects of current and future generations of Americans.

It’s easy to point to flaws in any UBI proposal but that doesn’t do anything to offer an alternative proposal on how to deal with how to deal with the impact of AI and automation, which is an issue that deserves discussion not only by Mr. Yang but by everyone in the US regardless of their political leanings.

If there are a lot of Americans who feel abandoned and upset because their jobs have been lost or will be soon lost to AI and automation and wonder what is going to be done to address these issues by the political leaders in the US, just stop and think for a moment how the millions of Chinese workers are going to feel when there jobs are lost to AI and automation, as will most certainly happen.

Instead of worrying about whether Mr. Yang’s UBI proposal makes perfect sense perhaps we should instead focus on the problem he is trying to raise and discuss all the possible solutions.

#19 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 19, 2019 @ 6:33 pm

“They seem to have basic skills, and they seem to be showing their children they are expected to work…”

Laughing.

I take it you want to be on the committee to see who in the population gets euthanized to make that work.

Unless we discuss what has to take place to get to what the real economy looks like:

1. actual sales (GDP) receipts by the numbers of sales
not what’s on the shelf

2. exports to imports

3. underground economic valuation

4. valuation of government dollars to economy
stop projection budgeting
5. a discussion of the damaging “minimum wage
laws”
6. impact of deficit spending and the deficit

7. waste . . . and military extensions abroad

#20 Comment By Kevin O’Keeffe On March 19, 2019 @ 7:46 pm

#YangGang is all about getting the nationalist right to embrace UBI. We want UBI, but we want it from President Kobach, or maybe President Tucker Carlson (or even President Trump…although that seems impossible at this point). Actually getting Andrew Yang into the White House, would be a HUGE strategic error, even if some of the more credulous Yangsters haven’t quite managed to figure that out as yet. There’s little need to worry, however, as the DNC will do whatever it needs to do to rig their process in order to ensure that no one interesting, like Yang (or Gabbard), will ever fill either slot on their national ticket. And in November, Yang Gang presumably comes home to Trump (although I suppose the possibility of their embracing the right 3rd party candidate can not be excluded).

#21 Comment By Scott in MD On March 20, 2019 @ 6:30 am

@elite

Glad to give you a laugh.

I am sure your points are all good, although I won’t claim to know what you mean by all of them.

All I was saying is that Alaska already has a UBI program (they call it an oil dividend), and none of the things that Kent implies may happen have. Alaskans still work, and raise kids who work.

#22 Comment By Lert345 On March 20, 2019 @ 1:27 pm

$12,000 a year UBI? Employers would immediately deduct $12,000 a year from salaries.

#23 Comment By BJ On March 20, 2019 @ 4:46 pm

EliteCommInc said, “I am curious why only a thousand dollars. By getting rid of various social programs, I think the amount of gifting to the US citizen could be substantially higher. I think I got as high as giving every US citizen upwards of 1 million dollars per per family or person. When I first hear $1000.00 I smirked, instinctively – that’s a very cheap sell out.”

I wondered that, too, but if you take the $4.4 trillion dollar budget, multiply by .62 to account for the portion that is “mandatory spending” (social security, medicare, medicaid, etc.), then divide by 330 million people, you get about $690 per month for every person in the country.

#24 Comment By Billy Thomas On March 21, 2019 @ 5:38 pm

I voted Trump and I’m voting, and donating to, and pushing hard, for Andrew Yang. I mean, listen to him or look at his ideas on his website. They would help so many people. I want to live in that timeline.

#25 Comment By Kevin Donohue On March 22, 2019 @ 3:46 pm

“…it was more fun to support a rebel candidate than it has been to defend a sitting president.” Isn’t this a universal truth, one that transcends party?

#26 Comment By Jackson Riddle On April 15, 2019 @ 1:09 am

Dear Editor:

As the next election cycle nears, it is definitely becoming increasingly evident which candidates may rise above the rest become the “cream of the crop”. I agree with your statements on what slim margins Andrew Yang has to become the “Macho man” for the Democratic party. With that being said, you also stated that Mr. Yang emits an uncharismatic personality. I don’t disagree with the feeling that there could certainly be more passion backing his proposed policies, however, this absolutely does not mean his immediate downfall. Charisma in the political world is hard to filter; it could be real or it could be air. After this previous election we’ve had there have been completely new and unbelievable standards set with respect to the viewability of a candidate. I think generally people want to be angry and want to see an entertaining shouting fest. Being the loudest and most disruptive candidate is certainly not what defines being charismatic, and at the same time being completely silent and showing no evidence of passion doesn’t define it either. Mr. Yang being vocal about his goals and providing various personal experiences, such as spending time with truck drivers in Iowa, has shown his passion for what he is doing. Being too loud and or aggressive at this point in the political game would only hurt him and attract negative attention and people. Andrew Yang has shown enough charizma to pull enough funding to reach the national stage for the upcoming election cycle, it will depend on his performance at a higher level whether or not he is a true contender. He has certainly shown some attempts at comedic lenses to discuss very serious subjects; such as the fear of near complete automation in a tone that is much calmer and that makes his followers consider the future with a positive and progressive mind instead of a outlook of despair. Whether he can transfer this logical and sometimes comedic sense of discussion to the national stage is up in the air at the moment. He has an angle of attack as the forward thinker for all. He must reach everyone in the country with the same power or more than his elite campaign opponents. With his very tame displaying of his political campaign that has something to offer every kind of human, he certainly has the reach, however, the power is yet to be decided. How invigorated he comes off on certain subjects will determine what voting groups he barrs off from supporting him; he must tread lightly whilst discussing his plan for America. I believe he is holding back his full political voice at the moment until he gets a feeling for not just his immediate supporters, but the overall population. When he does project his course of action, he does so in a clear and logical way so to not displease any one particular group. As you stated within your article, the presence of memes of a particular candidate does not sway the election outcome in a major way, however, the social media presence of the candidate and his/her supporters definitely can. Andrew Yang has done a profound job at embracing this very hard to please group of young voters and creating a online presence with a “Elon Musk” vibe allowing supporters to view him as a person to idolize and see as a logical candidate. As long as he continues to maintain the fun and informative feel to his social media accounts, then his supportive base will continue to grow. It is not an issue of personality, but an issue of how he will display his goals as president. His “uncharismatic” vibes are of cautionary nature to let him better position himself as the healer of the people instead of one who disrupts. There are still parts of his campaign that Mr. Yang is still developing. One of those is his claim to the title of the opposite to Trump. This is a gamble for him in the long run because he must continuously support reasons on how this is true. There is a positive to this gamble, however. Clearly stating what is opposite to your plans and who your main opponent is allows people to decipher information about your push for the presidency and what ideals you use to build your personality. There is a foundation being laid so that a focused and energized campaign can arise on the national stage and take the damaged democratic candidates by storm. Andrew Yang’s charisma is shown through his thoughtful approach towards addressing his varied audiences. Being active in communities affected my modern issues such as automation, and being methodical in the approach to building a campaign is why Andrew Yang is a viable candidate for the 2020 election.

Sincerely, Jackson Leon Riddle

#27 Comment By Emmanuel Quinones On April 24, 2019 @ 3:58 am

These tech companies make more in a day than you will ever make in your lifetime. 10% VAT on these tech titans and America can get this damn autocratic government off our backs. Get people off of welfare and give the old folks healthcare. Medicare doesn’t fund planned parenthood, Medicaid does. Under Yangs plan Planned Parenthood will have to survive on donations, not to mention Yang wants to teach people who to manage their money because the education system is so broken they can even do that well. And lasty under Yangs plan he has a 3 tiered gun licensing that will basically teach you free of charge how to use it. WOW! Do you remember any Republican teaching it’s citizens how to be milita-men free of charge? Never. Lastly, when automation kicks in which it won’t be long America will be flush with so much cash it’ll be stupid. How about giving the American people a chunk of that? My mother raised three of us on her own, she’s busted her butt her entire life and won’t be to retire, under Yangs plan she will. Welcome to the new liberty loving Republican Party. #YangGang