I first became aware of Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang when I saw him on Joe Rogan's podcast. If that doesn't sound strange enough, the clip itself came to my attention when it was tweeted out approvingly by a former colleague of white supremacist Richard Spencer. In the tweet, Yang was referred to as “pro-white” because the video shows Yang claiming that the suffering of white men is “diminished” in American culture due to their racial identity, a concept that he finds “destructive.” In recent months, notable alt-right figures have continuously retweeted Yang’s tweets and interviews, as well as tweeted pro-Yang endorsements. They’re part of a growing trend of Yang praise among other racists, white supremacists, and problematic media personalities including the The Daily Stormer’s Andrew Anglin, white nationalist James Allsup, and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.
Yang announced his bid for the 2020 election in November 2017, becoming the first Asian-American Democratic man to run for the highest office. He holds no political experience, and instead has made his name as an entrepreneur: In 2009, he was the CEO of the test-preparation company, Manhattan GMAT (now Manhattan Prep), when it was sold to Washington Post Co./Kaplan Inc., and in 2012, Yang co-founded Venture for America, a non-profit organization that places skilled young professionals in cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans, rather than more popular locations like New York or San Francisco. Yang has also written two books with incredibly long titles: 2014’s Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore Our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs, and Create New Jobs in America (basically about how everyone should become a venture capitalist like him) and 2018’s The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future.
The latter is key: The main focus of his campaign is a universal basic income (UBI), what he calls the “Freedom Dividend” based on Thomas Paine’s “Citizen’s Dividend,” where he plans to provide a $1,000 per month basic income for every adult American aged 18 to 64. “This is capitalism where income doesn’t start at zero,” Yang told CBS’s Red and Blue. Another oft-discussed topic of his campaign is the replacement of human workers by robots and automation. In interviews, he speaks often of truckers in midwestern America who will soon find themselves jobless because of automated trucks developed by Amazon, which will lead to riots. In a short profile of Yang from February 2018, The New York Times called the “longer-than-long-shot” candidate “alarmist.”
Deaths now outnumber births among white people in more than half the states in the country. Much of this is low birth rates and white men dying from substance abuse and suicide. Our life expectancy has declined for 3 years. We need to do much more. https://t.co/zFRAkFY7FU— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYangVFA) February 15, 2019
Again: Yang is running as a Democrat. So why is he so popular with alt-right denizens and internet provocateurs? As several articles have already pointed out, Yang’s campaign has been boosted by memes, something that Yang himself has apparently embraced. A recent campaign announcement depicts a cartoon version of Yang dancing in celebration of reaching 65,000 donors as dollar bills flow in the background. As Anglin has written for The Daily Stormer, Yang obviously isn’t a white nationalist because he’s not white — but still, The Daily Stormer’s current background image depicts a bikini-clad anime girl wearing a Yang2020 hat. His heavily online supporters call themselves the Yang Gang, a term that encompasses his fans on the racist right, who appear to like him mostly based on his plans to give them a free $1,000 each month, and several instances where Yang has used language that is familiar to them in his concerns for the plight of white Americans.
There are multiple Twitter accounts run by alt-right trolls dedicated to the cause, as well as several anime-themed YouTube videos (reinstilling the right’s racism towards minority Americans) and articles on The Daily Stormer and popular alt-right blog Occidental Dissent. Appearances on both Rogan and Sam Harris’ podcasts as well as Carlson’s show don’t help Yang’s case for avoiding the attention and ostensible support of delusional, racist, and privileged white dudes, but he’s clearly found support in a strong politically-minded, doomsaying base that helped a fellow outsider win in 2016.
The War on Normal People was reviewed by traditional publications like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, but it also received attention from the libertarian-leaning publication Quillette, an outlet that has also interviewed Yang and defended his ideas. With Yang’s background and libertarian supporters in mind, his policies make sense; they are classically liberal or libertarian and value the freedom of individuals. The unfortunate side to this is that libertarian ideology is frequently associated with anti-politically correct conservatism, blaming leftist political correctness for society’s woes. For example, Quillette often publishes articles that refer to political correctness as a “fundamentalist religion” or “religion of wokeness”. They never quite define their terms, but it’s meant to suggest a negative outlook toward politically correct culture, a view held by the racist right. As a devout capitalist, Yang’s policy ideas and thoughts on libertarian and anti-politically correct figureheads like Rogan — he referred to Rogan as the “the primary voice of reason right now in our society” — are certainly much friendlier than the other Democratic candidates in the field, allowing him to attract questionable if not racist adherents.
The libertarian and racist right appreciate Yang’s sentiment toward Midwestern workers and white Americans plagued by both the opioid and suicide epidemic. Libertarians would prefer UBI to the current welfare state because it would put the money in the hands of the people rather than the supposed corrupt government. As economist and self-proclaimed libertarian Milton Friedman stated (in a quote that appears on Yang’s campaign site), “We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash — a negative income tax... which would do more efficiently and humanely what our present welfare system does so inefficiently and inhumanely.” Yang’s lack of political experience, anti-authoritarianism, and solutions for America’s largest issues (throw money at the problem) echo Trump’s campaign — so much so that his right-wing supporters are willing to overlook his political party affiliation in favor of his irreverent pessimistic attitude. As of now, he’s one of two explicit outsiders — the other is spiritual teacher and author Marianne Williamson — among established Democratic candidates. He has a hint of nihilism in his willingness to disrupt how things are done, is pessimistic about the future, and tops it all off with a heavy dose of business-minded solutions. It’s no wonder that some of those who once supported Trump as a gag have become part of the Yang Gang.
Yang, for his part, has tried to separate himself from white nationalism, while admitting he still thinks the memes are good. As he recently told Vox: “If you excise any racist white nationalist, bigotry leanings, I find the whole thing hysterical... You know what I mean? Imagine seeing your face on dragons and whatnot. The whole thing is funny... I wish I could just jump up and down about how funny it is, but obviously there’s an element of it that’s intertwined with some terrible beliefs.” He continued: “Anyone who spends, like, five seconds looking into me or my background or my beliefs or my platform would be like, ‘This guy is the least white nationalist dude ever.’” As Anglin already pointed out, of course Yang isn’t a white nationalist — he’s not white. What is concerning is his tepid treatment of the problem; it’s one big joke for him. Memes are powerful propaganda tools that should be taken seriously, and Yang’s praise for the main media format fueling his problematic base only fuels the racists’ fandom. It’s always funny until it really, really isn’t.