If you don’t know much about Andrew Yang, there might be a good reason for that. Despite being popular enough both in polls and donors to qualify for the next debate, he’s gotten little attention from mainstream media outlets.
According to Real Clear Politics, Yang has been mentioned on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC barely 1,000 times since January. Compare that with more than 63,000 mentions for Biden, 31,600 for Harris, 28,000 for Sanders, and 20,000 mentions of Warren. Even candidates who have by now dropped out of the race due to lack of support like Gillibrand (3,000 mentions) and Hickenlooper (1,450) have gotten more media coverage.
Why isn’t the media taking Yang seriously? Well, to start, he doesn’t have a background in politics. (He’s an entrepreneur and philathropist with a nonprofit dedicated to job creation.) Most outlets are similarly dismissive of Marianne Williamson’s campaign, although she doesn’t have the sort of grassroots support Yang does.
There’s also his unique platform of “human-centered capitalism,” which includes giving every American a “freedom dividend” of $1,000 a month.
To many, that will definitely seem unrealistic or overly simplistic. But it’s not without precedent. Finland just recently ended a two-year experiment with universal basic income. Modesto, California has launched their own experiment, giving $500 a month to a select group of residents. Alaska has had state-wide universal income for years, with the amount fluctuating based on oil prices.
Other candidates, like Pete Buttigieg, have said they’re open to exploring the idea. In her 2017 memoir What Happened, Hillary Clinton revealed that she was considering introducing UBI into her campaign platform. At the time, she and her staff “decided it was exciting but not realistic,” although in the book, she expresses regret for not having “thrown caution to the wind and embraced ‘Alaska for America’ as a long-term goal and figured out the details later.”
So Yang’s plan isn’t that crazy and it could be an incredible trickle-up economic stimulus. It also seems to be a major driving force behind the most troubling part of Yang’s campaign: his huge number of alt-right supporters. Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin, the Daily Stormer’s publisher, are two of his most prominent white nationalist supporters but they are far from the only ones.
Yang has disavowed those particular supporters, saying they are “antithetical to everything I stand for,” but that hasn’t stopped them from being vocal with their support. (He’s also appeared on Ben Shapiro and Joe Rogen’s podcasts this year, so he doesn’t seem to be working too hard to distance himself from those groups.)
So what’s behind the far-right support? For many, it appears that they view Yang as a natural successor to Trump, who ran on a promise that he would improve the lives of (white) Americans by building a border wall and bringing back all their jobs, either from their current overseas locations or by reviving dying industries. Many see Trump as having let them down, but for those who were so focused on what Trump’s election would do for them personally, $1000 might seem like a fine consolation prize. Couple that with a major political outsider with fringe ideas and there’s a sense that Yang’s presence in the race and at the debates is destabilizing to the Democratic Party.
Richard Spencer tweeted earlier this year that “Trumpism was the fantasy that America can be we saved. Yangism is the awareness that it can’t.”
Understanding Yang Gang:
1. The country is doomed
2. The rules don’t matter
3. We might as well get $1,000 a month
— Nicholas J. Fuentes (@NickJFuentes) March 13, 2019
Yang’s supporters (the #YangGang) are not all white supremacist 8channers, of course (and they’re not all driven by selfishness and nihilism), but they are, in general, Extremely Online.
A New York Times profile from earlier this year writes that Yang’s following “reflects the fractured nature of the modern internet. It has attracted economic wonks, tech-skeptic progressives, right-wing bigots, members of the so-called intellectual dark web and an assortment of half-serious trolls. (At times, watching the Yang Gang at work can feel like the political equivalent of the “Boaty McBoatface” episode — a group of bored internet mischief makers seeing how far they can push a joke.)”
The other thing about the Yang Gang is that they are incredibly devoted. They also express that devotion in very vocal, visible ways–with memes and videos–so the #YangGang’s online presence is hard to ignore.
The mainstream media, on the other hand, hasn’t been paying nearly as much attention to Yang. Yesterday, the Yang Gang got #YangMediaBlackout trending as a way to criticize the lack of media coverage.
— Econ Major (@RS2BM) August 29, 2019
— Basic Income UN (@BasicIncomeUN) August 29, 2019
They’re especially angry at a CNN graphic that chose to feature Beto O’Rourke as a top-polling candidate, leaving off Yang, who has been polling higher than Beto.
— TeensforYang (@TeensforYang) August 29, 2019
I understand why the big media companies might be confused or put off by Yang. He’s a political outsider with an unusual campaign platform and a large number of alt-right followers, whose numbers are quickly growing. (He’s at 3% in some polls, up from 1% just earlier this month.)
I’m not saying anyone has to support Yang if they don’t connect with his ideas. But all of that sounds a whole lot like another candidate the media didn’t take seriously for far too long and, well, look how that turned out.
(image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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