Here we go again.
Andrew Yang came on to the 2020 Presidential campaign trail as an unlikely prospect. Many believed the entrepreneur who boasts virtually no experience in the political arena would fall at the first hurdle, probably before anyone else.
He proved his detractors wrong, surpassing political veterans like former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and Senator Michael Bennett in the polls as he aggregated an enthusiastic base mostly comprised of anxious millennial who see the charismatic millionaire as the anti-Trump- the hero equivalent to Trump’s villain.
Also propelling Yang is his promise of a $1,000 universal basic income- an initiative where, as President, government would provide a stipend to every American in response to stagnate wages and the increased cost of living rendering this generation of adults the first to be financially incapable of providing themselves any means beyond basic survival. Whereas their parents and grandparents could afford a house, a car and raise a small family on a one income household, young adults today are living in co-op housing situations, paying thousands in college loans for degrees that just aren’t serving them in the workplace leaving them in economic turmoil before age 25. They can’t afford to get sick, get married, have children much less accrue a simple savings for unexpected emergencies, such as fixing a broken furnace, water heater or vehicle. Saving for retirement is out of the question.
People on the bottom wrung of the social ladder rarely see any financial benefit from Government movement; While politicians regularly run on the promise to lower taxes for blue collar workers, with incredible predictability, they either backtrack and instead provide tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans or immediately create another sink to take away whatever crumbs they’ve provided.
So, Andrew Yang is speaking directly to the needs of many willing to vote in protest of a government that has offered no relief from the economic shackles created for them by a ruling class.
It is exactly the same path forged famously in 2016 by Bernie Sanders, whose ideas at the time were labeled “radical” and “impractical” but are now on the agenda of every candidate running to replace Donald Trump just four years later. Of course, Bernie never promised to put money directly in the hands of the public as Yang has- even demonstrating this at the September 12 Democratic Debates.
Some people believe that Bernie Sanders was the foil for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential primary that ultimately saw her lose to Donald Trump in the election despite polls in the months leading up to November 8th predicting Clinton winning by a landslide. Like Yang, Sanders had developed a strong grassroots base of supporters, some of whom aggressively fought his critics both online and in public, dramatically polarizing the party.
In contrast, Clinton fans felt deeply scorned that, once she was awarded the Primary win, Sanders broke from tradition and refused to endorse her or rally his heavily embedded base behind her campaign until later. Relations between the two candidates became contentious amid allegations of rigging by the former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz to nudge results in favor of Clinton. Sanders fans were justifiably furious at the injustice. Interestingly, in a 2017 interview, current 2020 front-runner Elizabeth Warren told CNN she “Agreed the democratic race was rigged for Clinton.”
Now, Warren is one of three primary hopefuls finding themselves at the top of the polls- In a profound case of Deja Vu, against Bernie Sanders and his rollover supporters from 2016. What’s unique this time around? Sanders and Warren are running almost identical campaigns, and Warren, another Senator with a long running progressive record, has been accused of cutting from the same pie.
While those two appeal to the Nation and debate which of them should run against the most controversial President in History, Yang has poised himself to fill Bernie Sanders 2016 role of niche favorite. The YangGang, as he affectionately calls his supporters, cannot be discounted as they represent a growing number of fresh voters to the arena who suffer from establishment fatigue- the same condition that parlayed itself into the overwhelming support Trump received to rebuff former First Lady Clinton. Younger voters are tired of being a sieve for the wealthy elites, working ridiculous hours to make someone else rich; Exploited for their labor with little return because figures of authority simply can. Young people today have developed a self-awareness that is dangerous to the members of government who have long held a firm, controlling grasp on their potential and their future. When choosing between two Senators who have spent decades in positions of influence and a younger, self-made entrepreneur who recognizes the unique challenges we face today instead of 30 years ago, Yang comes out on top, perhaps not by virtue of his experience as a politician, but certainly as a relatable figure with more insight into the daily struggle.
The stage has been set for Warren and Sanders to split their respective votes in half, while Yang can slowly develop momentum by placing his bets on an entirely new generation of progressive voters who simply haven’t witnessed enough palpable quality of life improvement from Sanders and Warren’s collective half century in politics. The same can be said for Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, all whose salaries have been paid by taxpayers for years with intangible results. One common thread linking the new generation of voters to older voters? Almost none of them trust politicians, regardless of party affiliation. That disdain for politics could pave the way for Trump again.
Yang represents an invigorating new presence on the field of candidates, a certain kinship that his supporters hold dear and defend ferociously because on the tiers of the social hierarchy, of all the candidates, Yang sits closest to them. While blasted for not wearing a tie on the debate stage in September and deemed ‘disrespectful’ by conservatives and establishment liberals alike, Yang fans applauded his casual, comfortable appearance. That was just one of Yang’s differences that make him all the more attractive to those disenchanted by the business-as-usual method. While discussing the plague of gun violence afflicting America, Yang became visibly emotional, weeping on stage. Politicians are not famous for expressing their emotions in a public setting for fear of be regarded as weak by critics. Yang’s disinterest in remaining stone faced or unaffected as he listened won him both respect and admiration from onlookers. In a similar circumstance, fellow candidate Beto O’Rourke brilliant pursed his lips and scolded the media asking “What the F-ck?” In those moments, the two candidates were human.
Andrew Yang’s rising star could be problematic for those leading in the polls, however, if 2016 taught voters anything, it was to distrust polls as much as they do the politicians populating them. Yang has already qualified for the next Democratic debates in October, despite the strict requirements that must be met in order to take the stage. This is a milestone that others, like Booker, are struggling to meet.
Of the entire (and abundant) cast of 2020 hopefuls, Yang outshines everyone in his age bracket, he understands how to use social media to talk to people rather than at people. He’s active and comfortable in a medium the rest seem alien to. When compared to the 37 year old Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg who often parrots the term “Generational Change” as a selling point, he fails to infuse it with enough vigor to make it mean anything. Yang, on the other hand, appears in GQ Magazine spinning a basketball on his finger. To put it simply, while Buttigieg talks to others as a teacher does to a classroom of bored students, Yang is the smartest kid in class who energizes the conversation with innovative solutions to problems we’ve simply accepted as unsolvable for far too long.
Top tier candidates would be foolish to dismiss the influence Yang is developing. While he may be a long shot for the primary win, his endorsement will prove vital to anyone who is. There is no other candidate that has amassed the ground support so powerfully since Sanders did in 2016. For a candidate who has come out of left field, his relationship with his base who find him more accessible and like-minded than the rest of the pack, his endorsement can, with great ease, tip the scales in great favor… or to greater peril.