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Politics & Policy Mar 9, 2019 6:47 AM EST

Could Andrew Yang be the Democrats’ Trump?

There are obvious differences between American President Donald Trump and Democratic hopeful Andrew Yang, the main one being that Donald Trump was already very famous when he began running for president.

Could Andrew Yang be the Democrats’ Trump?
Micah Ryu Montreal, QC

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be up to date.

There are obvious differences between American President Donald Trump and Democratic hopeful Andrew Yang, the main one being that Donald Trump was already very famous when he began running for president.

However, they both come to politics as outsiders, understand the urban-rural divide, and know how to generate media attention.

A graphic on Yang’s website documents his progress towards qualifying for the debates (Image taken March 8)

As a fairly close follower of American politics, I had never heard of Andrew Yang until he showed up as an unknown name in an already crowded Democratic field. You may remember that the last Republican primaries included many “unknown” candidates who remained unknown and conceded in quiet.

Successful politicians need three things: a good problem, a good solution, and a well-communicated message. He seems to have at least two of those three covered already.

The Messaging

With still some time to go until the primaries begin, Andrew Yang took very little time before he began to make his case to the American people from any platform that has given him the opportunity.

He has appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, the Sam Harris’s podcast, with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, and again on Fox Business. Perhaps not the most orthodox campaign itinerary for a Democrat, but neither is his message.

It is very clear that he is not going for the sort of same target audience as the mainstream candidates. This makes sense, since there is no niche available with those audiences in a Democratic field that officially has over a dozen candidates already.

By generating attention in unconventional ways, with enough success, the “conventional ways” will naturally follow in giving him due attention as well.

That a previously unknown private citizen is trending on par with lifelong politicians is a feat that is at least as impressive as the attention Senator Bernie Sanders was able to generate by this time four years ago.

The Problem

Every politician needs some sort of boogeyman or boogeymen (or boogeypeople). Yang’s is automation of low-skilled jobs, which has given him some success with a key demographic of Trump’s supporters.

He argues, using the trucking industry as an example, that automation is good for society as a whole, but creates an unacceptable burden to the already struggling workers displaced by it.

He points out that the trucking industry is a major employer in the US, and that countless individuals who would lose their jobs would not simply roll over. After all, industrialization led to its fair share of riots by workers left behind in an evolving economy.

Pointing to already rising suicide and substance abuse rates, he warns that self-driving trucks are just the beginning of a new technological revolution, and that men disproportionately become more likely to commit suicide or abuse substances when faced with unemployment.

It is a problem that not many Democrats would hang their campaign on, especially being one that largely disadvantages the old and unsympathetic white man.

The Solution

The main policy proposal that is to solve this boogeyperson of automation is a 12k guaranteed minimum income. In modern times, that suggestion might be enough to cause any conservative to cringe, although that was not always the case.

There is, in my opinion, a way to have a well designed minimum income. Ontario had a pilot program for it that was decidedly not well designed, and British Columbia is now looking at it as well.

The main things to look for in a minimum income program are the tax-back rate and the amount of savings in eliminated bureaucracy. The Ontario program, for example, would have had some households with lower-than-average income facing a marginal income tax rate of over 70%. It also eliminated no bureaucracy because the program was not intended to displace other forms of government assistance.

An ideal minimum income program would have a low tax-back rate to minimize employment disincentives, and replace a complicated bureaucratic system of taxes and returns to save administration costs. After all, one of the main advantages touted by proponents of a minimum income is the potential efficiencies of simplifying the tax and benefits systems.

It might prove to be too much nuance for a population that largely views all minimum income programs to be largely the same, whether they see them as being good or bad. But it may sound like adequate compensation to those workers in “Red America” who suffered under trade deals that did not adequately consider their fate, as well as those who will suffer under continuing automation of low-skilled jobs.

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