As a presidential candidate, Andrew Yang does it his own way. “I have done the math,” Yang said about the universal basic income, his flagship proposal, at the second Democratic debate. “It’s not left, it’s not right, it’s forward.”
Among his distinctive features, this is the most important. Yang claims to be building a coalition of progressives, former Trump voters, libertarians, and Americans across the political spectrum.
Already, several Hillsdale students support him. Juniors Gabe Kramer and Mitchell Jesse can go on for hours about America’s problems — poverty, the opioid crisis, a broken welfare system, and automation are just a few — and how Yang’s policies can solve them.
Yang’s campaign coalesced around the UBI, an age-old policy that draws support from figures across the spectrum, including founding father Thomas Paine, economist Friedrich Hayek, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Specifically, Yang wants to give every American over 18 years old $1,000 per month, a policy called the freedom dividend according to his website. To offset the deficit, Yang will implement a national value-added tax and eliminate federal welfare programs, which the freedom dividend is intended to replace, for those who opt-in to the money.
For Jesse, who used to identify as a libertarian, it wasn’t an easy transition to the Yang gang. He voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate, in 2016.
“The two-party system bugs the hell out of me,” Jesse said. “I’ve always been looking for the outsider candidate who’s outside the norm.”
In spring 2019, Yang’s candidacy began gaining traction, and Jesse started reading about UBI and Yang’s other proposals.
“I wrote him off at first,” he said.
Slowly but surely, Jesse began watching Yang’s campaign rallies on Youtube.
“Every question I had, he had an answer for. He would answer every question someone had at a rally,” Jesse said.
Jesse left Hillsdale after the fall 2018 semester and returned to Colorado Springs to work in construction and concrete. He joined nearly 60% of Americans who report “living paycheck to paycheck.” His experience at those jobs, paying for a “cruddy little apartment” he could barely afford without air conditioning, informed his new political perspective.
Many people don’t understand what that’s like, according to Jesse. He pointed to the opioid crisis, rising rates of depression and suicide, and America’s declining life expectancy as important issues often left untouched by normal politicians, but not Yang.
“Before, being libertarian, you emphasize the economy and the free market. You think that takes care of everything,” he said. “On paper, it works great … but you don’t realize that those are real people, real lives, real human lives that are affected by this stuff … Yang talks about how something as simple as an unexpected medical bill or an unexpected car problem can ruin someone’s life so quickly.”
While in Colorado, Jesse said he had a few friends struggling with drug addiction themselves. “Suddenly, there’s this guy talking about real life stuff that I actually see around me, like the opioid crisis,” he said. “He’s talking about real life depression, anxiety, the opioid crisis, the rise in suicide rates, and how that stuff just isn’t okay.”
Yang’s campaign revolves around what he calls “human-centered capitalism.” According to Yang, automation in recent decades has decimated job opportunities and the American way of life. Kramer said he believes there won’t be any truck drivers left, one of the country’s most common jobs, in just 20 years.
Kramer is an ardent supporter of Yang. Along with Jesse, his Twitter name features the blue hat emoji, the final step for new Yang gang internet warriors. The emoji represents Yang’s famous MATH hat, which Kramer often wears around campus. “He’s done the math,” Kramer will say before selling you on the freedom dividend.
Kramer also identified as a libertarian during his freshman and sophomore years. However, while in Boston over the summer, Kramer’s high school friend began texting him about Yang. Initially, Kramer thought Yang was “crazy,” but listened to several podcasts and read more about his policies. In the same fashion as Jesse, all of Kramer’s questions were answered.
Kramer started following Yang’s subreddit and many of his supporters on Twitter. The kindness and optimism of the online community, Kramer said, were crucial in changing his political perspective.
“Yang says we should advocate human-centered capitalism,” Kramer said. “Another huge thing for me was not defining the nation’s success through GDP. Life is more than how much stuff we’re making … How long are people living? Are they happy? Do they like their jobs?”
Yang came up with the “American scorecard” to measure the country’s success, which includes all of these different aspects of life.
Kramer was disappointed in the media’s treatment of Yang, which frequently disregarded him, left him out of polls, and made embarrassing mistakes on live TV. In response, Kramer ramped up his support, started wearing Yang’s merchandise around campus, and sought out conversations about him.
Over winter break, Kramer collected signatures for Yang to get him on the Indiana primary ballot. On Christmas Eve, Kramer spent eight cold hours outside a coffee shop in Fort Wayne telling people about Yang, the freedom dividend, and the looming automation crisis.
Kramer explained that his Christianity is a crucial part of his support for Yang.
“Caring for the poor is a very clear message in the Gospels,” Kramer said. “I think Yang has a surefire way to make sure no poor people get ignored.”
Paul Esposito, a junior who donated $20 to Yang last semester, shares a similar perspective. Like Jesse and Kramer, Esposito became a libertarian, but only “once I stopped listening to Fox News.” Now, at Hillsdale, he said he’s no longer a libertarian, but a “weird moderate.”
Esposito also became a Christian during his freshman year. Before, as an atheist, he had an “abstract awareness” of the plight of the poor, but only felt a moral obligation once he became Christian. This shaped his views on economics, and he now calls himself a distributist. Esposito cited Isaiah 1:17, which says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
Last summer, Esposito helped manage mission trips to Green Bay, Wisconsin; Rushville, Indiana; and Knoxville, Tennessee. He spent time in three very poor areas and interacted with impoverished Americans all summer.
“Seeing that up close and literally having the job of identifying what is wrong with their lives, coming to understand them, and being able to help them made me emotionally tied to their lives,” he said.
“Seeing things like that here in America, up close and personal, was very heavy for me,” Esposito added. “A lot of people like to talk about stats and trends, but nobody ever really talks to the people themselves.”
However, as of right now, Esposito would only reluctantly vote for Yang, if at all, because of his stance on abortion.
“I believe abortion is wrong and it’s murder,” he said. “That’s a very hard-set position for me.”
Kramer and Jesse agreed with Esposito. Yang supports abortion, and Jesse identifies inconsistencies in Yang’s policy because of that.
“How much you value human life is really important to politics,” Jesse said. “Yang’s campaign is something that values human life. He says it blatantly: humanity first. But to me, that doesn’t correspond with his views on abortion.”
Kramer agreed, and does not support abortion, but places the issue within his larger political calculus.
“For me, abortion is part of an equation,” he said. “The freedom dividend in and of itself is a very pro-life policy.”
Kramer mentioned that one of the most common reasons women get abortions is because they believe they cannot afford a baby. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 73% of women who got abortions cited financial troubles as a primary motivating factor.
“Give mothers more money and they’re less likely to have an abortion,” Kramer said.
Considered in full, Yang’s other policies make voting for him worth it, according to Kramer and Jesse.
“A lot of his policies speak for themselves,” Jesse said. “I recommend everyone go and watch some of his videos, campaign rallies, and listen to what he has to say. It’s one of those campaigns where listening to him means it actually makes more sense.”