Des Moines, Iowa — Even as he warns that the Robot Apocalypse is rapidly descending upon us, Andrew Yang wants his fellow Americans to know that it’s still okay to laugh.
While speaking to voters in the rural Iowa town of Grundy Center on Friday, Yang painted a bleak picture, arguing that Donald Trump is not the cause of America’s problems, but the symptom of an economy that has left too many working-class Americans behind.
“The numbers tell a very clear and direct story,” he said. “We eliminated 4 million manufacturing jobs in the last several years in this country. And where were those jobs primarily located? Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, and 40,000 right here in Iowa. After those jobs dried up, the shopping center closed. People left. The school shrank, and that town has never recovered.”
What’s more, he argued, in the coming years, things will only get worse as robots eliminate the jobs of millions of American telemarketers, retail clerks, and truck drivers.
“How many of you all know a truck driver here in the state? It’s the most common job in 29 states: 3 1/2 million truckers, 94 percent men, average age 49. My friends in California are working on trucks that can drive themselves. They tell me they’re 98 percent of the way there,” Yang says. “A robot truck just transported 20 tons of butter from California to Pennsylvania last month with no human intervention.”
“Why did they choose butter for this maiden voyage?” Yang asked. “If you Google, ‘robot-butter truck’ — this is a true story — at the end of the route was a giant stack of pancakes.”
The crowd laughed, and Yang admitted that he’d made the last part up before assuring them that “everything else is real.”
Yang’s unique policy platform — his signature proposal is a universal basic income of $12,000 a year for every American adult — has been key to his appeal with the small but enthusiastic band of supporters he’s built. At a cost of nearly $3 trillion annually (on par with the cost of Medicare for All), no one should expect UBI to become law anytime soon. But, as Alexandra DeSanctis wrote last April, it’s worth paying attention to Yang because “he has a policy agenda that features genuinely new ideas that, even if unworkable, augur interesting times for the future of American politics.”
Yang’s good nature and sense of humor deserve attention too — they help set him apart from his Democratic rivals and also explain his appeal. He pitches himself to Democrats as being the “opposite of Trump” because he is an “Asian man who is good at math.” Even when he can’t make it to the punchline, his laughter can be infectious:
WATCH: @AndrewYang jokes that canvassers should knock unwilling people unconscious, drag them to his corner: "…then you prop them up and make them seem like they are conscious." Doubles up with laughter and his wife Evelyn tries to get him back on track: "Contain yourself." pic.twitter.com/QoDRQp58g4
— Ben Pu (@BenPu_nbc) February 3, 2020
While Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren spend a fair amount of time denouncing Trump, Yang takes care to emphasize the need to win over those who voted for Trump in 2016.
“I don’t want to put anyone on the spot here, but if you’re willing to share, how many people here in this room voted for Donald Trump?” Yang asked a crowd in Des Moines on Saturday night. A few attendees raised their hands. “Let’s give them a round of applause,” he said.
It’s not clear how much longer Yang will be in the Democratic primary. He is polling at 3.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of Iowa polls, despite the incredible enthusiasm of his supporters. Though only 50 people showed up at Grundy Center on Friday afternoon, he drew a crowd of 1,200 in Des Moines on Saturday night, and a large percentage of those who arrived too late to get in were wearing the Yang Gang’s signature blue hats, emblazoned with the word “math.” Few of those waiting in line were even willing to entertain the notion of getting behind a second choice if Yang proved not to be viable at their caucus location.
However long his campaign lasts, though, it’s fair to say that American politics would be better were more politicians from both parties to emulate Yang’s style, if not his policy proposals.