There’s been a lot of buzz around this man, who prior to announcing his presidential bid, was relatively unknown in politics outside of organizing several PR-forward nonprofit organizations as far back as the Dotcom bubble. His platform includes an interesting mix of social democracy and tech-industry styled solutions to problems people actually want solved, which definitely hasn’t hurt his rise in the ranks of democratic hopefuls.
Interesting and fit for purpose are two very different matters, though. As much as he’s being lauded for making progressive policies palatable to center voters who feel displaced post-trump, it’s important to take a look at the nature of his policies and what actually comprises the groundswell that catapulted him into the forefront of political discussion before making hasty value judgments.
I’m aware that Yang Gang enthusiasm runs high on Crypto-Twitter at the moment, but if we’re being honest, the fact Andrew Yang has the singular attention of various crypto subcultures right now is as good a reason as any to view his presidential bid critically. As much as we all like to elevate the scene in our own minds, the sheer number of successful Ponzis, exit schemes and white collar crime executed on crypto people should be evidence enough that grift is easier in our subculture than most other places.
The core of his social media push seems to come from libertarians and disillusioned ex-trump voters, garnering support from the likes of /r/thedonald and Richard Spencer, despite the material similarity his platform has to one mocked by those same groups in 2016 as fundamentally misunderstanding the role of government. So why are these camps so ready to jump on Yang’s bandwagon despite such a sour attitude when it came to Sen. Sanders’ in the last election?
While you could chalk it to some wonk-driven subtlety between the two, I don’t think this political shift from historically right wing demographics is accidental. I mentioned earlier that Yang has been involved with successful nonprofits. He’s a man that if nothing else, has a very advanced understanding of public relations, and it’s pretty transparent that he’s leveraging that skill-set to capture a the voting base that, in his view, won trump the election.
Yang’s current Project, Venture For America, (or VFA) makes millions for running what essentially boils down to a headhunting firm that finds cheap labor for tech startups in exchange for photo ops in destitute cities. Yet, in all criticisms leveled against the democratic upstart I’ve seen, VFA only ever makes it into the “good qualities” column if it enters the discussion at all. This is despite Yang admitting that he believes the mission of VFA is ineffectual according to a recent feature spot he did on Freakonomics:
“And so my [VFA Startup Transplants], doing incredible work, starting companies that might employ 20, 30, 40 people, was not going to be a difference-maker in the context where that community was going to lose 20, 30, 40,000 retail jobs, call-center jobs, transportation jobs, etc. And I was horrified.”
Yang does not sound like a naive, utopian technocrat here. He knows he wasn’t making a real difference to Detroit’s crumbling infrastructure by finding interns for local tech firms, but he also expertly directed the messaging around VFA to court local support for the program there and in many similar locales in years prior. He exploited anxieties stemming from brain drain and the widening gulf between traditional and tech industry jobs to divert millions of charitable donations from the poorest communities in America.
Let me stress here that VFA is a headhunting firm that matches MBAs with tech startups tax free because it operates out of crumbling industrial towns that have more pressing issues than whether the next ‘Uber for [noun]’ will headquarter there briefly before moving to Southern California. Cities like Detroit, St. Louis and Cleveland are sold a dream of renewed prosperity, and donations and grants are siphoned off material aid and appropriated to give tech companies a fun gap year with free talent searches before moving out. It’s an elegant scheme,to be sure, but make no mistake that it’s grift at the core of Yang’s organizing experience.
So, back to the question of what motivates the right-leaning support of Yang (a democrat)in the 2020 election, and how that applies to the crypto-verse:
Vocal Yang supporters run the gamut from alt-right to center-left online, but there’s two common threads tying them together: expression through nihilistic memes, and crushing anxiety about job security and social mobility. These same anxieties were exploited to great effect by the trump campaign in 2016, but Yang is drawing his messaging along the lines of automation paranoia and American decline instead of blaming globalists, immigrants etc. for the issues faced by the working class. In many of his interviews he holds automation as this cataclysmic inevitability, one that can only be tempered with proposals out of the wet dreams of silicon valley futurists.
If mobilizing displaced, nihilistic swaths of voters is what won trump the election in 2016, Yang is setting himself up for a rabid (if smaller) base, with slightly more progressive sounding policies in the form of UBI and “human centered capitalism.” (whatever that means.)
Yang isn’t afraid to pay lip service to white nationalist causes either. On the fifteenth of February he tweeted the following:
“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.”
The man clearly wants online promotion at any cost. Whether it’s feeding reactionary responses to advancing technology, taking up left buzzwords, or outright dog-whistling white genocide, he’ll take Yang Gang promotion wherever he can get it, and constructs calculated messaging accordingly.
You can call this a cynical reading of the Yang Gang phenomenon, but there’s no rational compromise that reconciles all of these behaviors otherwise. You don’t run on social democracy, talk like a Luddite, and give a side eyed wink to Stormfront unless your plan is to use posters as free advertising.
Yang wants to build a movement around apocalyptic worldviews. People with no future prospects drawn in by the promise of a no strings attached monthly allowance, people that see demographic shifts as a call to arms, and people who feel like there’s nowhere else to turn with the rise of technocratic multinationals under global capitalism.
Unfortunately, this is where Crypto-Twitter comes in. As much work has been done by communities like Rare Pepe to distance themselves from alt-right sentimentality, there’s a common idea among Bitcoiners and company, that working within established systems to improve things is a non-starter, and this lack of faith in the state quickly gives way to accelerationist posturing when they discuss politics. Crypto-Twitter, upon seeing Yang’s UBI proposal, became a beehive of activity, promoting the idea that this stipend could be sunk into cryptocurrencies to preserve their wealth as the rest of the country disintegrates under the financial burden.
Whether these posts were driven by irony and schadenfreude or not, they still amplify Yang’s message. In advertising the intent rarely matters as long as you find a way around ad-blockers to the eyes of the general public, and Yang has done just that in spades. It saddens me to see a community I consider myself a member of serve as useful idiots for a politician when their entire basis for existing is supposedly subverting them.
On the topic of interests, let’s discuss Andrew Yang’s. If his platform and campaigning can’t be taken at face value, what explains his anachronistic behavior? Three words: Venture For America.
Yang’s nonprofit pulls down an average of 3 million a year by scavenging the husks of rust belt cities to run a tax free tech headhunting service. Social policies championed by those further left of Yang, like aggressive public works investment, college debt forgiveness, and strong antitrust will crowd him out. Without hungry grads, ruined cities and tech multinationals to buy up startups, the entire proposition of VFA starts to look silly. Short of drastically altering the requirements for 501c3 status, no one right of him poses any sort of threat to his bottom line. All these popular social policies are conspicuously absent from his platform, probably for that very reason.
Yes, I know that this sounds conspiratorial. But lets pause for a moment and step into Yang’s Shoes. He’s a man that’s made a 20 year career out of mobilizing people to build technocratic charities. For the first time, he’s seeing a leftist lineup that might actually erode some of the cash flow in the private nonprofit space, and from there, it’s easy to see why he might seek backing to run as a democrat. He doesn’t need to win the primaries, he just needs to drag down leftist candidates like Sanders and Warren by skimming some of their votes. Centrist Dem hopefuls like Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke aren’t committed to anything that would hurt his bottom line, or anyone else with pull that wants to back him. All he has to do is raise some money and find a way to advertise, a set of tasks he’s literally made his career on doing well.
So he constructs a technocratic platform that superficially looks like it has an eye towards social justice, he gets interview spots on online outlets like the Joe Rogan podcast to spread his message to his target nihilistic audience, and he uses them as free advertising after paying lip service to the extremist causes that are looking for someone less hollow than Trump for a candidate. He just needs to garner enough of those volatile votes that got trump elected to disrupt the democratic primaries and he’s accomplished his mission, robbing everyone involved of good representation, and I don’t want to see the crypto community become another group of marks for a man that’s campaigning for no one but himself.
Images Via Marc Nozell