Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang (楊安澤) might not become the next US president, but the clear-headed futurist has mounted a surprisingly vigorous White House bid centered around his plan for universal basic income.
For the past year, the son of Taiwanese immigrants has crisscrossed early voting states like Iowa, calmly, but convincingly telling whoever will listen that the automating away of about 4 million jobs in the US’ heartland helped elect US President Donald Trump.
Yang’s message is part dark warning — the rise of the machines is real — and part clarion call for solutions to cushion the blow in an era of massive transformational change.
His campaign has gone from a long slog convincing skeptical voters about his pledge to provide every American adult with US$1,000 a month, to a solid run for the Democratic nomination that few saw coming, and which puts him in the next nationally televised debate with nine other Democrats.
Yang, 44, has seen his crowds, once numbering a few dozen people or fewer, nudge into the hundreds, sometimes 1,000-plus, and readily sits for interviews with conservative commentators, leading to broad cross-party exposure.
While he has described himself as the opposite of Trump — “an Asian guy who likes math” — he is eager to woo Trump supporters, especially working-class white men anxious about their diminishing socioeconomic status.
Come Thursday next week, Yang is to be the only non-politician on the debate stage, standing alongside political giants like former US vice president Joe Biden and US Senator Bernie Sanders.
People have taken notice, including SpaceX and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk.
“I support Yang,” Musk said on Twitter on Aug. 10, a succinct seeming presidential endorsement from a highly visible global entrepreneur.
Yang, whose go-to outfit is a sports coat, dress shirt and no tie, has never held elected office. He is relaxed and direct, a skilled explainer beholden to no political camp.
One year ago he was a political nobody. By February he was the novelty candidate. Today, he is outpolling three sitting US senators, a current and former congressman, and the mayor of New York.
“People started catching on to the fact that I was proposing solutions, not sound bites, and that we can actually start solving the problems on the ground,” Yang told reporters in Iowa at a Democratic dinner.
“I’m identifying things that politicians only occasionally pay lip service to,” like rising rates of suicide and depression, and declining US life expectancy.
His campaign raised more than US$1 million from small donors in nine days following the second debate on July 31.
The unlikely nature of his candidacy — “Random Man Runs for President,” read one magazine cover — has only elevated his stature.
“Once they hear about him ... they love him,” said Tom Krumins, a 25-year-old in South Carolina who once worked for Venture For America, the Yang-founded non-profit training thousands of young professionals to work for US start-ups.
“As that support continues to grow and as he continues to build his visibility online and in-person presence, he’s going to take it by storm,” Krumins said.
Yang has released several dozen policy prescriptions, including an ambitious US$5 trillion outline to battle climate change.
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