Andrew Yang is out of the race. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who’d run for president on a platform of giving every American a $1,000-per-month, no-strings-attached benefit payment, withdrew from the Democratic presidential primary before official New Hampshire results were even announced. “Endings are hard, New Hampshire,” the candidate told supporters on Tuesday night. “But this is not an ending. This is a beginning. This is just the starting line. This campaign has awakened something fundamental in this country and ourselves.”
He’s right. It would be easy to attribute the unlikely success of the Yang campaign — even in his last week of campaigning, the non-billionaire political neophyte was still earning a consistent 4 percent in national polls — to the candidate’s easy accessibility to journalists, or his charming shamelessness when it came to internet-friendly gimmicks, or even to the goofy, improbable charisma he developed on the campaign trail. But the Yang campaign wasn’t a sideshow, a stunt, or a vanity project. Even though Yang’s quasi-libertarian platform, orthogonal as it was to traditional Democratic politics, was unlikely to assemble a coalition broad enough to secure the nomination, it still activated a group of devoted supporters — the YangGang — whose insistent, zealous advocacy for their candidate and his signature proposal revealed a strain of politics with a significant and passionate constituency, one that’s unlikely to evaporate in the sudden absence of its figurehead. The Yang campaign may be over. But Yangism is here to stay.
The best way to understand Yangism might be as a strain of post-libertarianism — one of a handful of descendent, related ideologies now emerging from the wreckage of American libertarianism in the Trump era. Over the last decade, split apart by the response to the global financial crisis and the rise of Donald Trump, the broad libertarianism once regularly touted as insurgent in electoral politics has more or less collapsed. Some supposed libertarians have simply become (or revealed themselves as) Trumpists, or out-and-out white nationalists; others have taken up the project of reconstructing a kind of left-wing libertarianism they call “liberaltarian”; still others, calling themselves “state-capacity libertarians,” now advocate for greater government intervention in and support of markets. (Don’t even get me started on the ones calling themselves “classical liberals.”)
And then there’s the YangGang, encompassing everyone from the rich, middle-aged “cranks and curmudgeons” that the Outline’s John Ganz calls “New American Tories” to the alienated teenage doomers of Reddit and Instagram. I doubt that many YangGangers would call themselves libertarians at the moment, or for that matter that many of them called themselves libertarians in the recent past. But they strike me as obvious descendants of the digital activists who drove the Ron Paul campaigns of 2008 and 2012: Mostly young, mostly male, highly online, impatient with politics and confident they’ve found the One Weird Trick to get the country back on track.
In his essay, Ganz identifies the Yang platform’s three “central premises” as “general social liberalism (‘let people do what they want!’), a rejection of identity politics (‘this political correctness stuff is out of control!’), and UBI (‘just give people $1,000!’).” This sort of interpersonal libertarianism — essentially, a desire to be left alone — matched to an ambitious state program to ensure that the continued feasibility of being left alone provides what Ganz calls “a way out of politics and its constant tensions.”
Various forms of this sick-of-politics ideology have cycled through the American electoral landscape for decades, and Yang’s campaign harks back not just to Paul’s, but to Ross Perot’s straight-talking businessman bid of 1992. But Yangism is a particularly 21st-century edition: Yang supporters are animated by a deep belief that the world is undergoing dramatic environmental and economic change, probably for the worse, and for which a sclerotic Establishment is unprepared. To prevent or mitigate these changes — and to restore and preserve the individual freedom and economic stability that allow people to be left alone — politicians must develop creative, disruptive policies premised on straightforward, engineer-minded rationality.
The scale of its ambitions aside, the “Yangist” varietal of post-libertarianism is not particularly radical. Its quintessential policies are those that are eminently respectable as matters of academic debate, but nearly impossible to imagine being implemented under current political conditions. It’s not intently ideological, and it owes much more to the futuristic, information-wants-to-be-free libertarianism of ’90s Silicon Valley than it does to the paranoid end-the-Fed libertarianism out of which the Paul campaign originated. As such, it’s generally amenable to conventional Democratic Party politics in a way that various solutionist libertarianism ideologies of the past were not.
It’s in this context that the future of Yangism becomes particularly interesting. The relative success of Yang’s run has demonstrated that there’s a real appetite for his brand of techno-libertarianism — and that it’s not wedded to the Republican Party. Democrats who can tap into the sentiments that animate Yangism — urgency, ambition, skepticism of political Establishment — have a good chance of keeping his supporters in the party, and potentially turning them into a significant bloc within Democratic politics. On the other hand, Democrats shouldn’t take it for granted. Before the Iowa caucus, Yang suggested that he and Bernie Sanders have “a lot of overlap in support.” But, he confessed, “I frankly think I’d have a hard time getting them to do anything that they’re not naturally inclined to do.”