I recently donated five dollars to Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign for the sixth time. Thirty dollars is obviously nothing on the scale of national politics, but for me it was a big deal because it was the first time that I have ever donated any money to a politician. After the most recent donation, I was on a walk and found myself reflecting on what motivated me to donate. In the past I’ve felt passionate about and “supported” politicians—I was an excited supporter and voter of Obama and of Bernie in 2016—but I’ve never felt compelled to donate money to anyone. What was different this time? Why did I feel energized and even obligated to help Andrew Yang’s campaign?
Yang’s well timed campaign emails along with the one click Apple Pay on my phone certainly encouraged a few of those donations. And yes, the clever name for his supporters, the so called “Yang Gang”, also seemed too cool to miss out on (come on, there’s even a rap song for it). But there were two deeper reasons. The first centered on my feeling that this election is extremely crucial and needs to be a major course correcting move for America. I think we can all sense that people are losing trust in the institutions that both keep this country running and help us interpret reality. If we don’t, as a country, come back to some kind of a shared narrative, I think we risk the whole system spiraling out of control. As I got to know Yang’s policies and approach, I became more and more convinced that his framing of problems and solutions could be just what we need. The second reason was something deeper about him and his personality that I really connected with; he comes across as a smart, funny, and genuine human being. I would be embarrassed to display support of most politicians, but I feel a sense of pride in being part of the Yang Gang. So to explain why I support Yang, I will elaborate on these two main reasons. First will be this election’s unique importance along with why I think Yang’s approach is workable. Then I will give my deeper and more human reason that I chose to be part of the Yang Gang.
The Importance of this Election
This election feels uniquely important, and to me Yang has a uniquely different approach than any of the other candidates. Instead of feeding off of the political polarization in the country, one of his campaign slogans—“not left, not right, forward”—shows that his mission is to unite the country into a shared American identity. The left and the right exist with their different ideas, but we still have to live together and negotiate our way into the future. While other candidates are emphasizing the differences between people (aka playing identity politics), Yang is trying to emphasize our common humanity by uniting us against the common challenges we face. Human beings are tribal by nature, but against a shared challenge we also have the ability to put aside our differences and work together. While other candidates emphasized the media narrative that racism and sexism won Trump the election (or Russia, Facebook etc), Yang looked at the numbers and correctly blamed automation—four million factory jobs were lost to automation in key swing states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. It seems instead of looking inward and questioning their approach and their beliefs, the Democrats have doubled down on the polarizing approach that lost them the 2016 election. I’ve been worried for years about this growing feeling of political polarization in the country (I wrote about it here), and it’s only accelerated since Trump took office. The status quo on the left (and of course this exists on the right too) seems to be an angry demonization of the other side—there is almost a prideful ignorance of the other sides perspective and utility. But Yang, instead of feeding off of and contributing to this polarization, is encouraging people to find their common humanity as we face the coming technological revolution.
Another main factor in this election is of course Trump. Besides the fact that Trump seems like an awful and immoral human being, I think his blatant disregard for professionalism has weakened the whole institution of the presidency. Even though I do not like most of the candidates on the Democratic side, I think I would prefer pretty much anybody in the White House over Trump. Yet at the same time that Trump is being Trump, the left side of politics has continued to spiral into insanity with its insistence on identity politics and their false sense of “social justice”. Instead of the left getting their act together and building unity against Trump, they’ve continued with the same philosophical game that got Trump elected in the first place. Trump should be the easiest president to criticize in an honest and grounded way, but the left has continued with the dishonest games around things like race, gender, and public outrage. Because the left’s criticism has been dishonest and unprincipled, this current situation with Ukraine and Trump’s possible impeachment—something that should feel like a much bigger story—just feels normal. To those that are unsure about Trump, I can understand why it feels like just another “witch hunt”. I’m not saying that’s what this is, but the left is so clumsy and lacking in self awareness that they make it easy for Trump to control the narrative.
In order to gain more attention and support, most of the candidates on the left are playing a kind of “who is more outraged at Trump” game. They use their outrage to demonize the other side and appear morally superior. Yet so far only Yang and Bernie seem to realize that they will actually need some of the people who voted for Trump. I’ve even heard people on the left say “Fuck Trump voters I don’t care what they think” as if they don’t need some of their votes to win the election. Even though elections in this country continually fall close to a 50/50 split, the left seems to have stopped trying to stabilize itself to any sane center. Against most of the Democratic candidates, I am convinced that Trump will win in 2020 for essentially the same reasons he won in 2016. I think it is crucial that Trump does not win, though, and this realization has me paying much more attention to politics. Unlike the far left candidates—and even if someone like Elizabeth Warren won, I think she would further divide the country and risk a smarter and more dangerous version of Trump in 2024—I think that Yang’s message can both beat Trump and reduce the polarization in the country. But again, this wasn’t the deepest reason that I donated to Yang.
Underneath the intellect—the facts, the policies, and the math—there is a deeper and more emotional reason that I chose to support Yang; I can see his humanity. He shows his real personality and motivations, and he comes across as a mature adult with a properly regulated ego. He is the opposite of a megalomaniac because he never really wanted to be president. I genuinely believe that he sees a bigger picture—one in which America’s long term survival is at risk— that makes him feel obligated to run. He has a razor-sharp intellect yet also wears his emotions on his sleeve. Said simply, I think he is a genuine and well-balanced human being.
Too often, though, politicians just appear like characters of themselves. They seem too good to be true, and they have a measured and overly serious way of delivering information. Obama was a great president in a lot of ways, and I felt pride in having a smart president. But watch a speech by Obama and then imagine him talking like that at the dinner table. Obama was one of the more genuine politicians that I can think of yet he still came across as performative. Hillary didn’t come across as genuine at all and I never felt a human connection to her. For better and worse, people vote largely with their feelings and their guts. We seem to be in a new cultural place where the old method of being a perfect political character doesn’t work anymore. We are all suspicious of institutions and politicians, and we wonder who is genuinely motivated by outcomes and who is really seeking prestige and power. How do we decide who to trust?
Humans have different social behaviors and signals depending on who we are talking to. We speak differently to our acquaintances than we do to our close friends. We speak more honestly and show our true motivations to our close friends—we might even make fun of and be verbally cruel to them as a method of bonding and truth telling. I think, along these lines, Trump’s brazen attitude and rudeness acted as a kind of a psychological counter signal which established trust with people. People in those key swing states who felt neglected, lied to, and left behind by the culture found a trust in Trump’s naked “honesty”. Trump does not hide his childish ego, but my guess is that people thought that they could at least see what they’re getting.
I think Yang caught onto this. One of the things about Yang that I love is that he also speaks in this “close friend signaling” type of way. He doesn’t perform a “perfect human being” political character. He makes fun of people and things, is easy to laugh, and even regularly curses. But he’s never cruel or crude like Trump, and he also has real policy behind his personality. Trump may have come off as real and authentic when compared to a political character like Hillary Clinton, but in a debate with someone genuine and smart like Andrew Yang, Trump would instead come off as the immature and ego driven child that he is.
But the Democrats don’t seem to be catching onto this, and as the left spirals more and more left, the political character problem seems to be getting worse. Sometimes I wonder if the politicians are even mindful of the persona they are taking on (AOC for example seems totally lost in it). I have watched every democratic debate so far and all but a few of them seem like dishonest characters. Their anger seems to be an obviously contrived attempt at virtue signaling. They talk about solutions in a grandiose way—usually without nuance, details, or even accurate statistics—that carries an arrogant sense of “ I alone can end the suffering in America”. They take the complexity of reality and shove it into a lower dimensional space of political legos. And if you try to have a nuanced discussion about a difficult topic—perhaps you are a compassionate person who loves other cultures and wants to help people but also has valid concerns about immigration —you risk being declared a racist or worse.
People can feel that they are being lied to, and they know that reality is more complex than that lower dimensional space filled with political trip wires. I am young and I have not followed politics for a long time, but these do not feel like winning strategies. Yang has managed to stay out of the identity politics mess, however, because he talks to the higher dimensional complexity of the problems we face. He is telling people in those key swing states that he understands their problems and that he hasn’t forgotten about them. He is telling them not to blame immigrants for their lost jobs . He is acknowledging that you can suffer in this life no matter what your gender or race is, and his flagship policy—giving a universal basic income to every American adult—doesn’t divide people based on race, gender, or income level. It instead has the potential to unite us towards a common goal in which everyone, no matter who they are, can fall back on on a basic quality of life. It doesn’t reduce people to a statistic based on their group identity. It treats people as individuals who should have the dignity and freedom to choose their path through this life.
At the end of the day, I think people fall back on their personal experiences in order to interpret reality. And this only becomes more true when people distrust the institutions (politicians, media, universities, etc) that would otherwise interpret reality for them. When we can’t trust the institutions to give us honest narratives, we gauge our trust in a candidate by the human connection we feel towards them. Are they speaking to us or at us? Are they performing a morally superior character or are they speaking to us like a normal and flawed human being. By seeming like the opposite of these characters (and speaking to the problems in those swing states) Trump tricked enough people that he was an honest actor who would “drain the swamp”. But after years of revealing himself as a corrupt liar, I think people are looking for a candidate that feels right, feels smart, and is actually honest. Andrew Yang is smart without belittling people. He is funny and curses without being crude. He is also humble enough and wise enough to surround himself by intelligent people. He gives me a feeling that I haven’t felt from a politician in a long time; behind all his speeches, campaign slogans, and policies, I get the feeling that there is a real person there who genuinely wants to help. More than any specific policy, I trust him because of this.