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16 Mar, 2019 18:40

#YangGang: Anti-robot 2020 candidate attracts meme-makers, supporters from left and right

#YangGang: Anti-robot 2020 candidate attracts meme-makers, supporters from left and right

Andrew Yang is a name absent from most cable networks’ 2020 discussions. However, the Democratic candidate and universal-income advocate has been steadily building an army of online supporters, including some unlikely names.

Kicking off his campaign in earnest with an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast last month, Yang has since accumulated 65,000 donors, enough to participate in the Democratic National Committee’s first two primary debates this summer.

However, even with the sudden surge in interest, Yang is still polling around one percent. CNN has excluded Yang entirely from its opaque ‘Power Rankings,’ despite featuring Washington Governor Jay Inslee, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro - all of whom come in behind Yang in the Monmouth University poll.

Yang’s signature proposal is the ‘Freedom Dividend’ - an experiment in Universal Basic Income that would see every adult American given $1,000 per month. The dividend would be funded by increased taxes on tech companies and is intended as both an economic stimulus and a safeguard against automation, poised to wipe out 40 percent of the world’s jobs by 2035, according to one expert.

The 44-year-old’s anti-robot stance has given rise to his campaign’s borderline-dystopian slogan: ‘Humanity First.’

"The fact you even have to state that shows you how distorted our values have become,” Yang told Rogan. However, rather than preventing automation, Yang says he’s focused on coming up with solutions to lessen its economic impact on workers.

The rest of Yang’s platform leans left, but draws a few ideas from the right. Among his scattershot proposals are universal healthcare, tougher gun control measures, body cameras for police officers, infrastructure investment, and protections for freedom of speech online - a conservative rallying cry.

For whatever reason, Yang’s campaign struck a chord with the meme-slinging posters of 4chan, who have taken to calling themselves the #YangGang.

Although Yang is in many respects a dyed-in-the wool liberal, some unusual names have come out as #YangGang members. Among them is avowed white nationalist Richard Spencer, who once supported Donald Trump but has since become one of the president’s most scathing critics on the far right. Support for Yang among white nationalists can likely be traced back to a tweet from the candidate last year, in which he vowed to curb the opioid crisis ravaging white America and tackle falling birth rates in poorer white states.

Yang has repudiated the support of the fringe right, denouncing “hatred, bigotry, racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and the alt-right in all its many forms.” That hasn’t stopped the memes flowing, including one purportedly anti-Semitic image showing a smiling Yang redistributing Jewish money to a white supporter.

Some of the mainstream right have also been won over. Fox News Host Tucker Carlson interviewed Yang earlier this month and agreed wholeheartedly with his ‘Humanity First’ message.

“I haven’t heard anybody in our political conversation describe the threat (of automation) as clearly and compellingly as you,” Carlson said. “I sit with my jaw open, I agree with you so strongly.”

Whether the support of ex-Trumpers and meme-makers will be enough for Yang to dispatch mainstream Democrats like Kamala Harris and the yet-unannounced Joe Biden remains to be seen. However, as the election of Trump proved in 2016, anything can happen when memes and politics intersect.

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