US Presidential candidate Andrew Yang is a self-evidently intelligent man. But he has an even bigger trump card over and above others insofar as he realises that the root cause of problems in the US are down to the following fact: “it’s the economy, stupid!”
As the US economy continues its gradual shift towards automation and as jobs previously thought to be shielded from the “rise of the robots” including truck drivers, fast food workers and call centre workers, are now facing the same challenges previously faced by assembly line workers, Andrew Yang has been very frank about the dangers facing those who want a stable job and a steady income.
In this sense, Yang has not sugar-coated the problems like many in his Democratic party, but nor has he scapegoated these problems on foreign nations, immigrant workers or obtuse sociological theories, as many Trump supporters continue to do. Instead, Yang is very realistic about the statistics regarding how insecurity in the work place has led to social insecurity among many demographic groups within the United States.
But far from being the candidate of doom and gloom, Yang has a well thought out solution. Yang’s support for a universal basic income that he calls the Freedom Dividend is designed to soften the immediate blow of creeping automation, while in the long term, Yang proposes new ways to harness the economic dynamism of a cyber-economy so that the digital economy can ultimately bring in as much if not more revenue than the industrial economy and human led service economy of the 20th and early 21st centuries.
Campaigning under the slogan “humanity first”, Yang is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise toxic US political environment. By combining objective statistics with mathematically scrutinised solutions, Yang has removed human emotion from his proposals whilst simultaneously injecting human compassion into the justification for his solutions to very real and erstwhile ignored problems.
Yang’s fresh approach to politics has attracted a great deal of attention from all sides of the political spectrum. This attention has come from the left and right, but also the increasingly marginalised centre, as well as those who never took any interest in politics, even in the age of Donald Trump. Another slogan of Yang’s, “not left or right but forward” has helped to define a candidacy that has recently been catapulted from obscurity into the political limelight.
To be sure, Yang has courted and continues to receive attention from those who care more about the general state of the country than about any particular political ideology or party. This is overwhelmingly a good thing, but of course, as with any transformational candidacy, with good publicity comes some negative support. Some figures from America’s extremist political fringe have taken to Twitter to publicly endorse Yang’s candidacy. It can not be certain if such support is genuine or a form of high stakes trolling designed to distract from Yang’s deeply humane ethos.
In any case, Yang has addressed this by openly condemning those who seek to offer support that can only be described as misguided. The truth is that Yang is the last best chance to push back against the kinds of political extremism in the United States that existed long before Donald Trump declared his candidacy, but which have become more vocal since Trump’s victory.
As Yang points out, Trump did in fact tap into legitimate concerns among America’s economically disenfranchised working class, but instead of adopting modern solutions to very real problems, Trump instead leaned on age old scapegoats as a political crutch that has had mixed results to say the least.
The fact of the matter is that even in countries that are both wealthy and that are equitable in terms of how wealth is distributed across society, there will always be forms of political extremism. That being said, the more the economy works for ordinary humans, the less likely anyone will be to turn to political extremism of any kind. This is as true of developing countries as it is in respect of developed countries like the United States.
By addressing the concerns of the socially marginalised in a manner that offers economic solutions to very human problems, Yang is indeed putting humanity first – over and above hyper-nationalism, sectarianism, identity politics, lazy scapegoating and of course above anything remotely related to extremism.
The real danger therefore is not that a very small handful of extremists have been temporarily drawn to Yang’s campaign, but instead, the danger is that by ignoring the problems that caused the extremism in the first place, other candidates across all political parties are sleepwalking into a future that will see increased economic equality which historically leads to a growth in sectarian and extremist political movements.
In this sense, Yang’s candidacy seeks to erect a dam between growing tensions in the United States and an American dream that is in need of serious revision for the simple reason that the facts on the ground have drastically changed. The kinds of stable jobs that were once readily available are either going or are gone and as Yang rightly says, in an age of automation – these jobs are not coming back. These jobs have not been stolen by foreigner nations or by immigrants or by supposedly privileged groups within US society – they have been stolen by increasingly autonomous machines.
Of course, there is nothing new about an inspirational young candidate having to contend with extreme elements in US politics. In 1960, John F. Kennedy was a forward looking young Senator who sought the presidency and as such, he had to content with reactionary elements in his own party that may have rallied towards Kennedy’s economic policies, whilst being repulsed by his policies on social equality.
In many ways, Yang is the Kennedy of the 21st century. He is young and optimistic but at the same time he is intelligent and realistic. Hopefully, the political environment of the 21st century will realise his talents and the hope he inspires in the same way that the 20th century afforded Kennedy a similar opportunity.