We’ve all experienced this story before. A businessman comes out from the political dark. He has never held office before, neither local nor national. He has one main policy proposal that encourages a few people to give him a following. At first, he’s ridiculed by his peers, the media and the public, and few people decide to take him seriously, particularly online and on social media. The argument goes that this man is neither experienced nor qualified for the nomination. For the first few months, he lags behind his traditional and established competitors but starts to weed out established senators and governors. And when the primaries come around, he begins to galvanize the people. Suddenly, in one fell swoop, he secures the nomination and then shortly after the presidency. This is the story of Donald Trump. For some, it was a horror show highlighting the flaws within our political system. For others, it was a legendary tale of a man that, for lack of a better word, trumped the established political landscape. Regardless of how one may have seen the rise of Trump, it is undoubtedly a historic political feat.

Fast forward to the beginning of November 2017, a relative unknown joins the race as a Democrat, vying to challenge Trump for the presidency in 2020. His main claim to fame — if one could even call his existence before the election cycle anything akin to fame — is that he was a tech executive. He has one main policy proposal that encourages a few people to follow him. At first, it seemed as though no one mainstream gives him attention and chalks his main policy as merely a gimmick. But, he continues nonetheless. While the mainstream TV media neglects him, a newer medium — the internet — carves him a following in the form of podcasts and videos. Moreover, he does something nearly unprecedented in modern America’s divisive political climate and crosses the partisan divide to speak with some of the opposition’s most provocative and influential figures. He has developed a passionate base on the internet, and that support has manifested into thousands showing up for his rallies. This man is Andrew Yang, and his flagship proposal is a Universal Basic Income, or Freedom Dividend,providing every adult in America $1,000 per month.

Considering the results of the 2016 election, it would have been well-advised for the Democratic establishment and the mainstream media to be wary of a seemingly small political outsider with a fervent media following. But they weren’t. And now, a man with zero political chops hovers around the fifth favorite for the Democratic nomination, according to Business Insider’s polling, competing right behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Yang’s rationale for UBI stands on the fact that the immediate automation of labor fields will disenfranchise millions over the next decade. He proposes that UBI be the preemptive measure for America to brace for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And even now, the ramifications of automation have begun to show. At the beginning of 2019, it was estimated that roughly 25 percent of America’s jobs were threatened by automation and potentially 73 million jobs could be leveled by automation by 2030. Being a tech executive in Silicon Valley, Yang has spoken to the fact that automation is one of America’s greatest coming crises. 

Yet, at the September Democratic debate, Yang offered to give 10 families $1,000 per month for one year to prove the effectiveness of UBI, and he was met by laughter from the other candidates on stage — once again, shamelessly proving the disconnected nature of the Democratic Party. Millionaire Democratic candidates once again patronized average working families. These elitist millionaires laughed, but everyone else did quite the contrary. After the debate, the entire pilot paid for itself in the form of $1 million raised in just 72 hours after the debate from 450,000 donors. And in the October debate, just one month later after being laughed at, UBI and automation stood at the forefront of the debate. It doesn’t seem like anyone is laughing now. 

Furthermore, Yang has fervently placed emphasis on bridging the political divide. Instead of focusing on why Trump should not have been elected like other candidates, Yang humbly recognizes that there was a large and influential disenfranchised working class that felt abandoned by the Democrats and settled for Trump. Yang has become an advocate for the Midwest, catering to both Democrats and Republicans alike, arguing for more investment in the Midwest. His mottos are also inherently bipartisan: “Not left, not right, forward” and “Humanity First.” Yang’s followers, comically known as the Yang Gang, are comprised of a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, independents and everything else in between.

Possibly one of Yang’s most impressive feats is not his meteoric rise in popularity or his bipartisan commitment to bettering humanity, but his ability to dodge the explosive, immature wrath of Trump. Ever since the announcement of his campaign, Trump has barely tweeted about him. Think about it. Trump. The man who has an opinion on everyone and everything has yet to speak about Yang. Before, one could say it was because of his relative obscurity. Now, he has reached the main stage, and still nothing. There’s something else going on here. Andrew Yang is the political paradox: He resonates with the people like Trump did — minus the reckless temperament of Trump — and is extremely substantive, presenting dozens of comprehensive and innovative policies.

Joshua Kim can be reached at joshica@umich.edu. 

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