After a surprising surge to make his way to the debate stage, Andrew Yang didn’t make much of an impression there in just three minutes of speaking time as leading Democrats with a lot in common tried to make the most of their distinctions.
But Yang was only there at all because he raised money and registered in the polls by packing the policies of elite technocrats in a coating of Clintonesque pain-feeling paternalism. He’s already made the list for the next Democratic debate, and his rise is an early warning about how, no matter how bad our politics may see right now, they could be far worse if parties and voters don’t police themselves and defend their values.
Yang cut his teeth in test prep, an industry that sorts students based on abilities for a nifty profit. That sorting, of course, privileges the wealthy who have more access to the resources the prep industry offers. He became a millionaire when he sold his company, Manhattan Prep, to Kaplan, the test prep industry leader, and founded Venture for America, "to create economic opportunity in American cities by mobilizing the next generation of entrepreneurs and equipping them with the skills and resources they need to create jobs"—that is, to hack the rust belt with venture funding.
Now, Yang is running for president to fulfill the tech oligarchs' dream of a universal basic income intended to pacify the poor as a substitute for actually dealing with income inequality. It is politics as philanthropy, that smacks of a 19th-century noblesse oblige.
This is a brand of politics intended to neuter a muscular liberalism based on moral guidelines and defined as an attempt to civilize the economy and empower people. It is an approach not only opposed to the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders, but to the core philosophies of the Democratic Party. Yang’s prescription stands against the notion that the state, through policies and legislation, needs to play a more muscular role in social and economic life.
Instead, he is providing a Silicon Valley venture capitalist’s vision, one that acknowledges inequality and injustice, but then seeks to treat only its symptoms rather than its cause: Just give money to the poor, and let them figure it out.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, his approach—shorn of emotion, passion or sensitivity—has drawn never Trumpers, libertarians and members of the alt-right to his “Yang Gang.” His campaign picked up momentum from appearances with Tucker Carlson on Fox and Joe Rogan on his podcast, as he’s called for—along with a $12,000 a year “Freedom Dividend” for every adult American—a massive reduction of the federal workforce, a 10-percent slice of the military budget for a “Legion of Builders and Destroyers” that would be able to overrule state and local governments to get new stuff built, and, of course an outside consultant who’d supposedly make all of this work.
If this sounds crazy that’s because it is crazy. It’s the “disruption” tech companies keep peddling and that consumers keep ending up with buyer’s remorse about, but for our entire nation. Yang’s politics masquerades as a new form of liberalism but they are something entirely different, as he aims to gut the federal government while handing unfettered power to tech executives and real estate developers, with a measly $1,000 a month for the rest of us as this happens.
Democrats, and the Democratic Party, need to make themselves clear: This is not the future that liberals want.