Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, a 44-year-old former businessman and philanthropist, has garnered a devoted fanbase (dubbed the “Yang Gang”) for his unique raft of progressive and technocratic reform proposals. His signature policy, the “freedom dividend,” would see every American receive $1000 each month, no strings attached. Yang has garnered enough support to secure a spot on the Democratic debate stage later this month, in spite of his total lack of political or government experience. On this week’s Deconstructed, Mehdi Hasan sits down with the candidate to talk about his platform, his qualifications, and why he seems to have attracted online interest from the alt-right.
Mehdi Hasan: I’m wondering what it is that attracts neo-Nazis to your campaign. You’re a progressive Democrat.
Andrew Yang: I believe that the problem that the truck driver is facing and the problem that the neo-Nazi is facing, it’s a disintegrating way of life. I mean, like obviously, their vision of the future is nothing we want.
MH: Sorry, a neo-Nazi’s way of life is disintegrating? What do you mean by that?
AY: Well, you know, they look up and this is obviously, this is just me projecting because I don’t know what the heck goes through other peoples’ minds. But if they looked up and say “Hey, Donald Trump’s the answer,” and they’re like “Woah, wait, Donald Trump’s not necessarily the answer.”
MH: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. And that was Andrew Yang. Andrew who? Andrew Yang, my guest today, the 44-year-old former businessman and philanthropist who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
AY: We need to accelerate both our economy and our society and I’m the man for that job because the opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes MATH! That stands for “Make America Think Harder.” And that’s what this campaign’s going to do.
MH: Andrew’s never held any elected office before but will be on the Democratic presidential debate stage in a few weeks time – and has, I think it’s fair to say, some very interesting views.
AY: When the robot trucks hit the highways in five to ten years, it’s going to be of epic disaster for hundreds of thousands of Americans in hundreds of communities around the country. I am running for president because we do not have that much time.
MH: So on this week’s show, where on earth did Andrew Yang come from, why is he running for president of the United States, and why has this progressive Asian American entrepreneur attracted the support of online Nazis?
Seth Meyers: Congressman Eric Swalwell announced last night he’s running for president.
Newscaster: Congressman Seth Moulton announced last night he’s running for president.
Newscaster: Pete Buttigieg —
[Overlapping newscasters announcing 2020 candidates.]
MH: At this point, it’s easier to keep track of which Democrats aren’t running for president than which Democrats are. There are just so many of them. The field for the Democratic nomination in 2020, in fact, includes more candidates than in any party primary for four decades.
Last time I checked and, you know what, it may have gone up since the last time I checked, a whopping 24 — count ‘em, 24! — senators, governors, mayors, members of the house and of course a former vice-president of the United States, who’s currently leading the pack. They’re all running for the 2020 Democratic nomination. There’s even a guy who’s never served in government, never served in elected office of any kind who’s going to be on the debate stage later this month. He’s my guest, but we’ll come back to him in a moment.
First off, why are so many Democrats running for office? It’s becoming a bit absurd, isn’t it? From where I’m sitting, there seem to be two types of candidates in this 2020 primary race: those running to win, like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren.
Elizabeth Warren: The time for small ideas is over.
MH: And those running really just to raise their profiles, Representatives Tim Ryan or Seth Moulton, for example.
Tim Ryan: This election’s about the future and I will tell you that I understand what’s happening in the economy right now and I understand —
MH: Ever heard of them? No? I can’t honestly blame you. And you can’t really blame them either — the nobodies and the underdogs — for running. There’s very little downside for them. It’s a long presidential campaign. You get CNN and MSNBC town halls all to yourself. If you qualify, you get to be on the televised debates. The first is in just a few weeks time. There’s two of them: 10 candidates a night, and you only need to show you have 65,000 donors and have reached 1% in three polls to make it onto the stage with the Bidens and the Bernies on one of those two nights. So, no matter how badly you do, no matter how weak your campaign is, your profile goes up. You might get a book deal out of it, or maybe even a cable news deal. This is America, the land of opportunity!
The reality, though, is that this is a serious contest to decide who will face off against Donald Trump next year and we need to focus, people. Right now, you have Joe Biden way out ahead of the other candidates in the field, with really only six or seven other candidates in a position to even challenge or beat him next year.
News pundit: To hear Democrats tell it, Joe Biden is the man to beat for the Democratic presidential nomination. After all, he’s rocketing in the polls and his campaign is now swimming in the cash.
MH: So why waste our collective time and attention on the also-rans and the book-deal-chasers? Especially in the coming and crucial TV debates? Imagine how much oxygen these fringe candidates are going to suck up over the course of the two nights. What an annoying distraction, let’s be honest, some of them will be.
Isn’t it more important to let the actual serious candidates, the grownups, if you will, debate, contest, challenge, one another?
I mean, what is the point of John Delaney’s candidacy, a multimillionaire former Democratic member of Congress from Maryland, who says stuff like this in front of Democratic audiences and gets the reception he deserves.
John Delaney: Medicare for all may sound good but it’s actually not good policy nor is it good politics. I’m tellin’ you.
MH: To quote Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “John Delaney, thank you but please sashay away.” Look, in a Democratic debate, I want to see Sanders and Warren spar over who gets the left vote. I want to see Harris and Biden clash over the 1994 Crime Bill. I want to see Buttigieg and Beto duke it out for the title of White Obama. I don’t want to see John Hickenlooper arguing with Eric Swalwell. I just don’t care. And be honest, you’re Googling who Hickenlooper and Swalwell are right now, aren’t you? There’s no shame in admitting. I’m not judging you.
I’m judging the Democratic Party. The thing is, having so many candidates in the field, even weak candidates, makes everything unpredictable. And as much the Democrats need to have a proper contest over ideas and personalities in the run-up to 2020 — in a way that they didn’t in the run-up to 2016, when it was supposed to be a coronation for frontrunner Hillary Clinton and her other rivals, apart from Bernie, were only Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and God help us, Lincoln Chaffee — unpredictability is not necessarily a good thing when you’re getting ready to take on this president and the Republican Party in 2020. I mean, just remember what happened to the GOP in 2016. Seventeen Republicans ran for president and the guy from Home Alone 2 won.
Macaulay Culkin [in Home Alone 2]: Excuse me, where’s the lobby?
Donald J. Trump [in Home Alone 2]: Down the hall and to the left.
MH: Yeah, I’m still not over that. Then again, on other hand, I know I sometimes come across on this show, and on social media, on Twitter, as someone with very firm views, strong opinions, but I’d also like to think I’m open to new ideas. I’m open to being wrong. I’m open to being persuaded of another point of view.
And in the case of the Democratic race, there is the quite valid counter-argument that having lots of candidates running has its advantages because certain issues get attention that might not otherwise get attention. Seth Moulton has raised the issue of mental health care, for example. Governor Jay Inslee has made a powerful, passionate, detailed case for how to combat climate change. Tulsi Gabbard, for all her many sins and flaws, and I’m no fan of Gabbard or her closeness to some very odious foreign leaders like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but she’s right to raise the issue of endless wars and the U.S. foreign policy establishment’s love for regime change.
And my guest today is someone who is sounding the alarm bell about the threat posed by automation and artificial intelligence, AI, to jobs and to incomes in this country, and he has a novel, innovative and pretty radical plan to protect American workers from that threat with what he calls a Freedom Dividend and what the rest of us call a universal basic income.
His name is Andrew Yang, he’s the 44-year-old entrepreneur, founder of a nonprofit called Venture for America, and he’s come out of literally nowhere in recent months, thanks to a very successful online operation involving all sorts of funny and not so funny memes, and a group of diehard supporters dubbed the Yang Gang. They’ve helped him net enough individual donors to qualify for the first Democratic debates on the 26th and 27th of June, and his donors, by the way, include Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Hollywood star Nicolas Cage.
Andrew Yang joins me now. Andrew Yang, welcome to Deconstructed.
AY: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
MH: Andrew, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but for those of our listeners who have never heard of you, who are you and why are you running for president?
AY: Well, I’m a serial entrepreneur who spent the last six or seven years helping create several thousand jobs in the Midwest and the South and I became convinced that the reason why Donald Trump is our president today is that we automated away four million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, all the swing States he needed to win. And my friends in technology know that what we did to the manufacturing jobs, we will now do to the retail jobs, the call center jobs, the fast food jobs, the truck driving jobs and on and on through the economy. So, I’m running for president to help wake up America to the fact that it is not immigrants that are causing these dislocations. It is advancing technology and then proposing real solutions that will help us manage this transition.
MH: When you decided to run, you must have thought to yourself, “No one like me has ever run before for the Democratic nomination let alone won it.” I mean, even on the Republican side you have Donald Trump obviously, who won in 2016 against all odds, but he was still a household name when he entered the race. The media was obsessed with him from day one. With respect, that doesn’t apply to you or the companies that you ran in the past.
AY: And yet, here I am, one of the thirteen candidates who’s qualified for the Democratic primary debates on the basis of both polling and grassroots donations.
MH: Fair point.
AY: I’m about to break through 130,000 donations, which will qualify me for the September and October debates if I poll as well. So, we’re in an unprecedented time. We need meaningful solutions and just doing what has been done before will not help us solve the problems of the 21st Century.
MH: You talk about the debates and you have qualified for the debates in Miami as you say, later this month. You got the one percent in the polls. You got the 65,000 donors, as you say. You’ve got more than that, but then some might say it’s hard to take you seriously when you don’t seem to be taking yourself that seriously. You told a journalist recently, “I want to be next to Joe Biden at the debate so the country can Google who’s the Asian man next to Joe Biden? And then they will discover Andrew Yang. I think that’s the ideal. I’ve done the math and I have approximately an eight percent chance of standing next to Joe Biden.”
AY: Yeah, I mean, those are just facts. I don’t think that’s an indication of a lack of seriousness.
MH: That’s your strategy? To get attention? To stand next to Biden?
AY: Well, the reality is most Americans have no idea who’s running for president in 2020 and Joe Biden is leading because his name recognition is sky-high. And so if I can stand next to him, it would be a very useful contrast in terms of energy and ideas.
MH: One thing you mentioned was we can’t do the same thing again, right? You said, you know, we’re in unprecedented times. Completely agree. You know, politics is up in the air. Things are upside down. But in terms of not doing the same thing again, given the Trump experiment has been such a massive failure — I assume you think it’s been a massive failure — why do you think Americans let alone liberal Americans will want to replace him next year with another president who has zero experience of government, of elected office, of foreign policy, of international affairs?
AY: Well, Donald Trump is a terrible president because he’s a terrible president but he’s not necessarily a terrible president because he hasn’t been in the public sector for decades. The American people are smart enough to distinguish between a marketing charlatan like Donald Trump not standing for everyone who has not been a senator or a governor over the last 20, 30 years.
MH: So, experience doesn’t matter, you think?
AY: Well, I mean, we all have different sorts of experience that we’re bringing to bear and I would suggest that someone who’s spent years trying to create thousands of jobs and succeeding in the Midwest and the South and then is keenly aware of the challenges that the fourth Industrial Revolution is bringing on the American people. Why are we not talking about the fact that we automated away these millions of jobs and we’re about to do the same thing to the most common jobs in the economy?
MH: And I do want to come back to the automation and your plan to tackle that in a moment. Just, before we get there, I just want to build up kind of, why you’re running and what the strategy is. When you say, you know, we all have different experiences, well clearly, that’s a truism. On that basis, anyone could run for president. And when you say you’ve created all these jobs that literally sounds like what Donald Trump said in 2015. That’s what Howard Schultz was saying a few months ago that I’m this businessman who’s created jobs. How is that any different, Andrew?
AY: Well, again lumping me in with a marketing charlatan like Donald Trump is doing a disservice to genuine builders around the country. And I’ve had voters who came up to me hundreds, thousands in Iowa and Ohio and other states and they say to me point blank, “You are what I was hoping for when I voted for Donald Trump.” I’m already peeling off thousands of Trump supporters, independents, libertarians and conservatives as well as Democrats and progressives and that’s the coalition we need to build to beat Donald Trump in 2020.
MH: You mentioned you’re peeling off Trump supporters. One of the ways you’ve become known and gotten all these donations that you mentioned and gotten onto the debate stage against the odds is thanks to your amazing online presence. You’ve got all these funny memes. You appeared on The Joe Rogan podcast. You also went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. You built this Yang Gang of online activists, but that’s come with some cost too, hasn’t it? You’ve also attracted support from alt-right trolls on Reddit, on 4chan, on some of these darker corners of the web. Do you regret the way you’ve run your campaign because it’s attracted some of these weirdos and racists?
AY: Again, Americans are smart enough to distinguish between a candidate and a campaign and the fact that people who have completely different agendas and ideologies might end up supporting that campaign. I’ve already disavowed as you know, any sort of support from those types of people.
AY: I’m the son of immigrants myself and I want nothing to do with it and Americans are smart enough to see that and know that.
MH: I know, I get that you definitely have disavowed it and if you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have you on the show, but what I’m more wondering is why are they supporting you? Have you stopped to think what have I said or done perhaps that’s attracted these people that I need to think about again? Is the way I talk about white demographics or white birth rates or the opioids? Why is it that Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi white supremacist says “Andrew Yang sees the problem for what it is. Everyone should take this man and his ideas seriously?” Surely that must bother you, that one of the country’s most prominent neo-Nazis is basically endorsing you. I get it that you don’t support him. I’m just wondering why you think he supports you.
AY: You know, when I travel in the Midwest, you know, I was with a truck driver in Iowa and he said to me. He said I don’t think the Democrats care about people like me. And I was shocked by that because growing up, the Democrats to me were the party of the working class. And so, if there are people that think that their problems have gone unaddressed and unacknowledged by our government, by the Democratic party in particular, they’ve been casting about for some sort of real response. They landed on Donald Trump. Some of them regret it. They’re looking around for real solutions and for better or for worse, I seem to be the only person who’s talking about the real problems and real solutions.
MH: I get that. A lot of the Democrats have been saying similar things since 2016. I’m just wondering a truck driver in Iowa is not a prominent neo-Nazi.
I’m wondering what it is that attracts neo-Nazis to your campaign. You’re a progressive Democrat.
Andrew Yang: You know, and this — I believe that the problem that the truck driver is facing and the problem that the neo-Nazi is facing, it’s a disintegrating way of life. I mean, like obviously, their vision of the future is nothing we want.
MH: Sorry, a neo-Nazi’s way of life is disintegrating? What do you mean by that?
AY: Well, you know, they look up and this is obviously, this is just me projecting because I don’t know what the heck goes through other peoples’ minds. But if they looked up and say “Hey, Donald Trump’s the answer,” and they’re like “Woah, wait, Donald Trump’s not necessarily the answer because my way of life is still —”
MH: Well, hold on, he might be the answer to neo-Nazis because he’s a white nationalist. The problem here, Andrew, is that they’re racists. Isn’t it easier for you to say “Look, I want to support the economic interests of white working class people, but I want to disavow the racism here”? That’s not what I’m hearing from you that neo-Nazis are racist and fascists. That’s why I asked you about Richard Spencer when a racist, fascist says he likes you, I would just wonder — As you say, you’re not even a white guy. What is it about you that’s attracting a racist fascist?
AY: So, as you suggest, I have 100 percent disavowed anyone with any sort of racist or fascist ideology, and I’m imagining that they are actually linking the economic interest of the white working class to their ideology, but that’s just my imagining because I can’t know.
MH: Let’s talk about your signature policy proposal in terms of the economy because you say that all these jobs are going through automation, more jobs are going to go. You’re very worried about kind of, the robots taking our jobs. We can have a whole debate about that, which we don’t have time for. But I do want to talk about your solution to it. You’ve come up with this proposal which is known globally as the universal basic income. You’ve branded as the freedom dividend because of course, who in America doesn’t like freedom? What is it? And why is it so radical? Explain it to our listeners.
AY: Universal basic income is a policy where every member of a society, let’s say every citizen, receives a certain amount of money. In my case, a thousand dollars a month to meet his or her basic needs. But universal basic income is not my idea. It’s not a new idea. It’s actually been with America since Thomas Paine and the founding days of the country. Martin Luther King championed it. Milton Friedman championed it. And one state in America has had a dividend for almost 40 years where everyone in Alaska gets between one and two thousand dollars a year.
AY: No questions asked. So, this is not a new idea. It’s not that dramatic. It actually passed the U.S. House of Representatives twice in 1971 under Richard Nixon and a thousand economists signed on to it.
MH: Yeah, and even Hillary Clinton was saying after the election that she was tempted by it but wasn’t sure how it work, how should pay for it. You want to offer $1,000 a month. No strings attached. No questions asked to American citizens, I believe age 18 to 64, am I right?
AY: It’s actually now 18 till expiration.
MH: Okay, 18 till expiration, but $1,000 a month while great, isn’t going to free people from the need to work, isn’t going to end poverty. It’s not enough to live on and isn’t that the problem with a universal basic income, why it hasn’t been tried by more countries? Because if it’s affordable, it’s not enough and to make it enough, it becomes unaffordable. That’s the paradox, isn’t it?
AY: Well, I love that you have already put into bed this myth that it’s unaffordable. That makes me very happy. But $12,000 per adult, if you have two adults in the household be $24,000 a year, which ends up being a game changer for millions of American households. It puts people in a much different situation and a $1,000 a month goes much further in the Midwest and the South than it does in DC or New York, you know —
MH: It also goes much further depending on the status of your household, $24,000 for two people living together without kids is great. But $12,000 for one single mother with four kids isn’t so great.
AY: Well, the wonderful thing for that single mother is they can look at each of their kids and say when you turn 18, you’re going to get a thousand dollars a month because your country loves you, your country values you.
MH: Okay, but that’s not going to help them while their kids are four, five, six, seven. Come on, Andrew.
AY: As a parent myself that would be a game-changer because we’re all always concerned about saving for our kids.
MH: No, people who are concerned about saving for their kids are the ones who could afford to. The people who are trying to put food on the table and live day to day are not going to be happy about the fact that President Yang is giving them a $1,000 a month and then giving their neighbors who have no kids $24,000 a month.
AY: Well, it’s not meant to replace existing social programs under —
MH: I thought it was. I thought you were going to pay for it by cutting existing social programs.
AY: No, if you were a single mother of four and you’re receiving in excess of $1,000 in benefits then that would be completely untouched as it should be.
MH: So, how are you going to pay for this? To ask the famous question of conservatives.
AY: Well, the way you pay for it is by paying attention to who’s winning in this economy. How is Amazon, a trillion dollar tech company paying zero in federal taxes less than you or me? And so, of course you can’t pay for it if your biggest winners from the technology revolution are paying zero into the system. So, the United States has to join every other advanced economy and have a value-added tax, which would then give the American people a tiny slice of every Amazon transaction, every Google search.
MH: Hold on, isn’t this a bit like Trump and tariffs? He says Mexico’s going to pay for the tariffs. Amazon’s not going to pay the value added tax. I’m from the UK. We have a VAT, a value-added tax. It’s a consumption tax, a sales tax. The consumers are going to pay that tax. It’s going to add onto the prices of what they buy.
AY: Well again, you have to look at it and say how is the Amazon paying zero in taxes? And you while you can say like Amazon —
MH: That’s by avoiding corporation tax.
AY: There is absolutely nothing that says —
MH: By running things through Ireland. It’s got nothing to do with VAT.
AY: — That says a company has to pass along 100 percent of the VAT to its consumers while some businesses do that, some businesses do not.
MH: But many do and you said on the Ezra Klein Show, I was listening to your appearance on Vox’s Ezra Klein show. You said that Ivanka Trump will end up paying more in a sales tax than a poorer person, than the average Joe and that’s true in absolute terms. But you know in proportional terms, that’s not true at all. Every economist will tell you, Andrew, that a sales tax is regressive. They hit the poor much harder than the rich because the rich can afford to save a lot more whereas the poor tend to consume a lot more.
AY: Yeah, that would be 100 percent true in a vacuum. But in this instance, we’re taking every dollar from the value added tax plus an additional two dollars and putting it directly into people’s hands which would increase the buying power of approximately the bottom 94 percent of Americans.
MH: Why do that with a regressive tax? You’re a Democrat. Why not do it with a progressive tax? Why not raise income tax on Jeff Bezos? Why not do a wealth tax like Elizabeth Warren’s brought in? Why do a regressive tax?
AY: I would be for making our tax code more progressive too. This is not an either or situation, but you have to go where the money is and if you look at someone —
MH: You’re not proposing it. You’re proposing a sales tax.
AY: — Someone like Jeff Bezos who is now worth, post-divorce something like 120 billion dollars, he doesn’t have taxable events because most of that wealth is tied up in Amazon stock. And so, you need to go where the money is. The money is going into his business.
MH: You don’t support Senator Warren’s wealth tax?
AY: Well, I understand the spirit of it. I think there’s a lot of wisdom to what she’s trying to do. But I also know a lot of wealthy people and I think implementation will be very, very difficult because most of the wealthy people I know would not be above sequestering wealth in various offshore havens and making it very, very hard for the government to get a proper inventory on what that wealth is.
MH: Here’s what I don’t get, Andrew, on the one hand, and I want to come to some of your other policies, as well, but you do just kind of, jump from extremes. On the one hand, you want to for example, you say in your book you want to jail the CEO and largest shareholder of any company that’s either fined by the federal government or bailed out by the federal government, which would basically mean imprisoning Warren Buffett and maybe Mark Zuckerberg too which might be popular with a lot of Americans but on the other hand, when Senator Warren says, let’s break up Amazon. Let’s break up Facebook, a much milder proposal compared to yours. You’re opposed to that. I kind of don’t get it.
AY: I’m not opposed to breaking up Facebook and Amazon. What I’m opposed to is emotional responses that might not solve the problem. If you break up Amazon into four mini Amazons, that might feel good. But what does that do for the average Main Street economy in Iowa, Ohio? Virtually nothing. So, what are you really trying to solve for here? We’re in the 21st century and trying to have 20th century economic dynamics of competition may not make sense in some of these situations. No one wants to use the fourth best navigation app. No one wants to Bing anything. You know, it’s like, trying to introduce competition into some of these marketplaces may not make any sense.
MH: No, I’m with you on avoiding emotional responses, but you don’t think locking up Warren Buffett for a month because Wells Fargo where he’s a majority shareholder or the bigger shareholder, took a 20 or 25 billion dollar bailout, you don’t think that’s an emotional response?
AY: I don’t because at this point if you’re a rational corporation, you are better served by abusing the public trust and paying the occasional fine than you are being truly, you know, restrained about your behavior. It’s just the incentives. You have to make incentives that would actually work for people.
MH: So President Andrew Yang would put Warren Buffett in prison for a month?
AY: Well, that’s the great thing about this because right now you have to ask yourself who’s running America? Is it us, the American people? Is it our democracy? Is it our government leaders? Or is it our corporations and rich shareholders running amok? I think most Americans know what the answer is.
MH: I get that and you’re preaching to the converted. I’m with you on the oligarchy. I’m to the left of Bernie on the economy. I’m just asking would President Andrew Young really want to put someone like Warren Buffett in prison as part of that strategy?
AY: Well, and that’s the wonderful thing about it is that you’re not necessarily forced to put Warren Buffett in prison. You know, it’s like you do have some discretion. You can look at it and say hey like, you know, jailing grampa’s not a good move.
MH: But you wouldn’t be opposed to doing it?
AY: But you know, but in other instances like the CEOs of Purdue Pharma, 100 percent those people should have gone to jail.
MH: Some of the other outsider candidates, you know, Peter Buttigieg, who came from nowhere, small town mayor. No one really heard of him six months ago, came on this show. We talked a lot about some of his kind of “radical” political proposals. You’ve talked about the economy, fixing a broken economy. What about the broken U.S. political system? I haven’t heard from you on abolishing the Electoral College or reforming the Supreme Court, which we hear from Buttigieg and from Elizabeth Warren and others. In fact, I think you poo-pooed the idea of abolishing the Electoral College which has the support of a big, big majority of Democrats and even a majority of all Americans.
AY: I’m for reforming the Electoral College. I’m for making it so that Americans, candidates have to compete in every state and not just the eight swing states. But I think abolishing the Electoral College entirely would focus campaign efforts on highly dense, highly populated urban areas and big media markets and that would be a very consistent bias in our elections.
MH: There’s already a bias. There’s already a massive undemocratic bias in the system. You have two Republicans elected in the space of 16 years without winning the popular vote. How is that Democratic?
AY: Yeah, and so, this to me is one of the fundamental questions, Mehdi, is that if you’re losing elections by rules that are engraved in our Constitution and then, you say, you know what we need to do? We need to change the rules. Like what that’s suggesting is that you can’t win by the rules that have been agreed on and so you’ve given up trying and you say you know, I need new rules.
MH: — The rules we agreed on over 200 years ago and we’ve moved on.
AY: And certainly if there was a genuine consensus among our people that that’s the case —
MH: There is, a majority of Americans including Republicans support abolishing the Electoral College.
AY: But we know that it would be a non-starter to actually get that passed because it would require a super majority in both Houses of Congress or a super majority of States, half of which would be shooting themselves in the foot in terms of their own electoral clout. So, we know it’s a loser. Instead of focusing on things we know we cannot do, let’s solve some problems.
MH: I mean, I thought you were Andrew Yang, the outside-the-box guy. You’re kind of, pooh-poohing, accepting defeat before you’ve even kind of started the battle.
AY: Well, on this one again, you know, like, I’m a rational person. I am for expanding the Supreme Court. There’s nothing in the Constitution that talks about —
MH: You’re a rational person? Are you saying Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are irrational for suggesting abolishing the Electoral College?
AY: On that particular point, I think they come across as hyper-partisan and sore losers. Like if we can’t win by the rules, like the first thing we need to do is win by the rules and then we can change the rules. Let’s win a couple of elections and then we can try and amend the Electoral College.
MH: I mean Barack Obama won two elections. You say you want to reform the Electoral College. How would you reform it then to make it fairer?
AY: So, what we need to do is we need to make it so that it’s not a winner-take-all on a state-by-state basis. So, if you had proportional allocation of electors, then someone like me would still want to campaign in Texas because if I carve out some percentage of the vote, then I actually get electoral votes and then it opens up the entire country. That’s a much more reasonable fix that everyone can get on board with than getting rid of the Electoral College entirely.
MH: When Hillary Clinton ran against Barack Obama in 2008, she ran on her experience. She tried to make out that he was inexperienced. It didn’t work. But one of the famous campaign ads from that time was you know, what will Barack Obama do if there’s a phone call at 3 a.m.? Contrasting her own experience as a senator, as a former first lady with his you know, lack of experience in foreign policy. A lot of people would look at someone like yourself again, looking at Trump — he’s in the UK right now making a fool of himself — and say do we want another inexperienced president when it comes to the global stage, national security, thorny foreign policy problems? What do you say to them?
AY: Well, what I’d say to them is that there is no prior experience that can truly prepare you for the incredible responsibility of being commander-in-chief, but what I can convey is the principles that I would bring to the office. I’ve already signed a pledge to end the forever wars. I think that the United States needs to put the power to declare military intervention back in the hands of Congress where it belongs, in the Constitution and where it has not been for unfortunately almost two decades, that we need to be more realistic about what we can and can’t accomplish internationally, and we need to be more judicious and restrained. And that is the way I would pick up that 3 a.m. phone call. That’s the way I would approach all of these foreign policy issues.
MH: And I think those are great principles, let me just say. That’s all music to my ears. But in terms of the actual dealing with the issues, let’s say you’re in the White House, January 2021. You’ve just become president. You get the 3 a.m. call from your joint chief saying that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched airstrikes in what he says is a Pakistani terrorist training camp and the Pakistanis are threatening to launch nuclear missiles in response. What do you do?
AY: Well, the first thing I do is I sit down with my joint chiefs of staff. I get all the information about the situation and then they lay out, I’m sure, like an array of appropriate responses and then I confer with the people who are closest to the situation and people whose judgment that I trust and then I make a decision. And the American people will have confidence that I’ve made the best decision based on the information that I have.
MH: It’s day one of your presidency, prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu decides to test the new progressive Democratic President Andrew Yang. He says Israel is annexing the occupied West Bank. What’s your response?
AY: I mean, Israel and the West Bank, It’s been an historic morass. And so I don’t have any quick answers or solutions. But clearly that would be against the principles that have been in place in terms of trying to reach a solution that — In my mind, the two-state solution be ideal and that would be against my vision for the region.
MH: So, what would you do? Would you punish it? Would you put in sanctions? Would you make U.S. military aid conditional, as Peter Beinart and others have suggested, Bernie Sanders has suggested?
AY: You know, we have a very distinct relationship with Israel. Like if that happened, I would sit down with the right people in my administration and determine the appropriate response.
MH: Andrew, a lot of people at home listening to this, especially on the left might say this Andrew Yang guy’s very interesting. I like what he says about Amazon. I like what he says about restraint in foreign policy, but I just don’t get why he doesn’t run for the House, for the Senate. Why doesn’t he start at the right level and be a really good governor or senator or mayor or member of the House? Why run for president? What is it? Is it ego? Is it ambition? What is it that’s motivating you to go right for the top job right at the start?
AY: It’s my certainty that the problems that got Donald Trump into office are not being addressed by our leaders and they’re just going to accelerate as 40% percent, 30 percent of malls close in the next four years, artificial intelligence starts displacing call center workers, and when the robot trucks hit the highways and 5 to 10 years, it’s going to be an epic disaster for hundreds of thousands of Americans in hundreds of communities around the country. I’m running for president because we do not have that much time and I actually have like zero ego about this. I’m on the record saying if someone else were to come into office and solve these problems, I would be thrilled. I’ve got two young boys who I never see when I’m on the road like anyone who’s doing this for ego is out of their minds. I’m doing this to solve the problem and to help lead this country in a shape I’m proud of for my children, for your children, for the next generation. That’s the only reason I’m running.
MH: Andrew Yang, thank you for joining me on Deconstructed.
AY: Thanks so much, Mehdi. It’s been a pleasure.
MH: That was Andrew Yang who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, who’s qualified for the Democratic debates, the TV debates in a few weeks time. He’s gonna be on stage in Miami maybe standing next to Joe Biden, which is key to his strategy for name recognition and raising his appeal. I’m not sure I buy his rather dystopian view of the future, this fear that robots are going to take all our jobs. We’ve had those fears before, not sure I buy it but maybe when I watch the new Terminator movie that’s out later this year, Sarah Connor’s back, maybe I’ll change my position and become more Yang-ian. For now, I’m not so sure about that.
Not quite sold on a universal basic income either. Although I see the pros on his side of the argument but there are many cons. And I think for a candidate on the Democratic side who wants to disavow as he has white nationalists who seem to be flocking to him online, in weird online forums, best not to say that neo-Nazis are seeing their way of life disrupted. That was kind of concerning to hear him say that. I do hope that was a slip of the tongue. But I also worry that he’s maybe not been able to speak about race and some of the racial resentment that’s been driving Trump in perhaps the right way, but good luck to him.
MH: That’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.
And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please do subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to theintercept.com/deconstructed to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at [email protected] Thanks so much!
See you next week.