For Now, America Just Doesn’t Want to Think That Hard

Andrew Yang has dropped out, which means the presidential campaign just got a lot less fun (you must watch this appreciation from The Recount, embedded above). The race also lost a credible and important voice on issues related to the impact of technology on our society.  The fact that Yang’s campaign didn’t make it past New Hampshire didn’t surprise the political experts I know, but his rabid base both online and at campaign events clearly did.

Perhaps Yang’s message of a “Freedom Dividend” never really caught fire because stock markets are at all time highs, and his warnings about tech-driven job losses have yet to come to fruition. It’s hard to get folks to care about something that requires thinking beyond the daily headlines, and harder still to ask them to consider long term trends like AI-driven automation or the wholesale reconstruction of our social safety net. But when Yang started his quest, these issues rarely made it to the national stage. Now they’re part of our shared vocabulary.

I first met Yang in Pittsburgh in 2018 at a technology business event, where I interviewed him in front of 500 or so students and local business leaders. I immediately invited him to a much smaller salon that Fall in New York. At both events Yang lit the place up – but it also took time for his message to resonate. His informal campaign slogan was “Make American Think Harder,” after all. As I wrote then:

“I for one hope Yang makes it to the debate stage, and that as a society, we will seriously discuss the ideas he proposes. We can no longer afford politics as usual – not the politics we have now, and certainly not a return to the cliché-ridden blandishments of years past. The time to traffic in new ideas – radically new ideas – is upon us.”

Andrew Yang did make it to the debate stage – but it seems that stage wasn’t built for the kind of dialog Yang wants to have. Perhaps we’re not ready to have the kind of conversation his candidacy represented.  Or maybe as a candidate, Yang simply isn’t built for the reality of American politics. Regardless, now that he’s a national figure, I’d wager Andrew Yang isn’t finished with his turn in the public spotlight. Once unknown, Yang lasted far longer than most everyone thought he would, and he’s built a brand that will only become more relevant in the years to come.

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