Andrew Yang speaks during a campaign event in Plymouth, N.H., February 6, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang has become newly relevant over the last week thanks to his call for America to adopt a four-day workweek. And even before Yang’s latest proposal, the friendly entrepreneur gained comical Internet redemption for the fact that his ‘Universal Basic Income’ plan was laughed out of the primaries yet went on to become temporary law in the form of COVID-19 relief in March.
Given the resurgent influence of Andrew Yang, it’s worth considering how the Trump and Biden campaigns might attempt to draw from his style of politicking. To be sure, Andrew Yang’s presidential bid was a highly unorthodox hybrid of policy positions that satisfied few. Conservatives were especially averse to Yang’s pro-abortion politics and tendency to promote government spending, while liberals criticized his UBI proposal as defeatist and dystopian. But policy demerits aside, Andrew Yang excels in certain key areas where both Trump and Biden are lacking.
Yang maintains civility. Speaking to a crowd of supporters in early January, Yang argued: “We need to human up and stop focusing on relatively trivial distinctions.” This was not empty rhetoric. Throughout his campaign, Yang refrained from demonizing conservatives, acknowledged that he understood why voters turned to Trump in 2016, and generally left the attendees of his campaign events feeling brought-together rather than polarized into factions. Arguably, President Trump would be far more popular — even with the same policy positions — if he abstained from indiscriminately antagonizing. On the other hand, Biden’s hot temper has seen even his own political allies struggling to defend him. Both men could learn from Yang’s ability to unite. Yang is data-driven. The tech-savvy entrepreneur made frequent use of empirical statistics and technology-based proposals throughout his presidential campaign, making him delightfully out of place among his rhetoric-prone opponents on the debate stage. From his proposal to tackle climate change with geoengineering to his statistical analyses of automation tendencies, Yang demonstrated a proficiency in data uncommon in the world of politics. (Of course, his conclusions betray ethical priorities with which some will disagree.) On the other hand, as Mark Cuban remarked to Sean Hannity in May, Trump and Biden are both “technologically illiterate at a time when technology is the most impactful tool we have to compete economically, medically and militarily in the world.” Surely Trump and Biden would do well at least to gain a better understanding of science and technology. In recent memory, the former’s remarks concerning hydroxychloroquine have not inspired confidence, while the latter’s mind does not appear to be a bastion of any understanding — let alone the technological or scientific kinds. Yang understands that we should consider more than just the economy. There is something deeply unsatisfying about prioritizing material growth so heavily. Yang captures this sentiment: “By focusing our measurement on GDP, we’ve promoted production over all else.” Though Yang’s preferred prosperity index would include metrics such as happiness, mental health, and volunteerism (as gauged by polls and other studies), conservatives are free to use their own metrics, such as spiritual richness and patriotism. The point is that the national political debate emphasizes economic productivity too heavily. Trump, in particular, frequently misses opportunities to relate to U.S. citizens by merely citing low unemployment rates or high GDP growth when deeper issues are at play. And when the economy does poorly, where does Trump have left to go?
Andrew Yang is not a skilled or experienced politician, but he’s often right on the ball. Biden and Trump could both stand to adopt some of the entrepreneur’s sentiments and dispositions.