Andrew Yang, who used to run a test-prep company, has never held elective office.* Until last year, he was politically unknown. Now, according to the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, he is tied with Beto O’Rourke and leading Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Julián Castro in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. To understand why, it’s worth looking at how he responded earlier this month when Shane Gillis, a comedian for Saturday Night Live, referred to him using a racial slur.
Yang urged that Gillis not be fired. He also made an artless comparison between anti-Asian and antiblack racism. That garnered much of the media coverage. But more revealing was Yang’s explanation for why Gillis deserved forgiveness. Gillis, Yang tweeted, “does not strike me as malignant or evil. He strikes me as a still-forming comedian from central Pennsylvania.”
What does central Pennsylvania have to do with it? For Andrew Yang and his supporters, everything. It’s code for economic distress—which Yang believes fuels racism and most of the other problems that menace America.
In his 2019 campaign book, The War on Normal People, Yang warns that as automation destroys American jobs, “conflict born of race and identity” will grow “with automation-driven economics as the underlying force.” Yang’s first example: Charlottesville. “The violence in 2017 over the removal of Confederate symbols,” he writes, “can also be seen as engendered in part by economic dislocation.” Why? Because “the driver of the car that plowed into the crowd, killing a young woman, was from an economically depressed part of Ohio.”