Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign marked a shift in American politics that four-years prior, seemed nearly unthinkable. His near singular focus on Universal Basic Income and automation brought a once-fringe campaign idea into the forefront of American politics — one that feels all to prescient now with massive unemployment hitting the country in a tidal wave at the onset of the economic crisis triggered by the Coronavirus pandemic.
But Yang, who ended his campaign and went on to launch a non-profit that gives direct cash payments to American families, is more than a candidate. He’s also a dad to two sons, one of whom is on the autism spectrum, a guy who has amassed an enormously loyal political following, months after leaving the race, and a moral voice in a world that lacks it. He’s a nerd who is not afraid of being a nerd. And he’s also the type of dad who has learned that the most rewarding thing about being a father is learning what drives his kids, and facilitating those passions.
He is also, unsurprisingly, extremely nice. Fatherly spoke to Yang about how becoming a dad facilitated his entry into politics, whether or not he gives his kid an allowance, and how it feels to be vindicated about UBI.
How has your role as a dad affected your political worldview, or your stances on political issues?
When our first son, Christopher, was born seven years ago, it was transformative for the entire family. He was a difficult child. We later found that he was on the autism spectrum. You know, up to that point, I had maybe realized what families around the country go through every day. I talked to Evelyn, my wife, about the fact that we struggled and that there were two of us. We had a lot of support and resources. So, thinking about what other families go through around the country, whether it might be a single mom or it might be someone who is having a hard time making ends meet [pushed me]. Like, because I knew the facts about the economic reality — almost 80 percent of us live paycheck to paycheck, almost half of us are unable to afford an unexpected $400 bill. Imagining families going through that, and then having to somehow balance parenting and caregiving… It struck me as something that I could help with. Right. I certainly would never have had that sense of it, if not from my experience as a parent.
There are a number of policies that were informed by my experience as a parent, like our embarrassing lack of paid parental leave. When a child arrives, the lack of adequate support or daycare. Our broken healthcare system that links healthcare to employment.
Did you get any like cool dad points from your kids for running for president?
I got cool dad points for my kids relatively late — when we had a campaign bus. There were TVs on the inside and video games. The first time I was on the debate stage, my wife tried to get them to watch it. They really couldn’t watch it because, you know, they’re quite small and they found it boring. Their words to Evelyn were: “Everyone but daddy is boring.”
Was it tough being on the trail?
One thing I realized when I was running for president is that being a dad is about being around your kids. That was, frankly, a bit of a tough lesson on the trail because, obviously, my time was incredibly important to the campaign and the case I was making. But it also felt like my time was very important at home. The thing that was both the most rewarding thing about being a father and about being on the trail [were the same]. Just being there and being a dad is a lot of your value. And when you’re full-time campaigning like that’s obviously difficult.
What’s the most rewarding thing about fatherhood?
Unconditional love. Christopher being autistic was a struggle. When you have a son, you say to yourself, “I’m gonna have my son do things that I wish that I’d done, or that I think would be good [for him.]” And then if they struggle with basic things, or have a completely different set of interests and motivations than you did, then you adapt. Part of being a father is putting yourself, and your visions for your child’s future, at a very distant second. Put it off to the side and concentrate on who your child is and love them unconditionally. In some ways, the best part of being a parent is that it’s not about what someone achieves. It’s just about who they are.
Right. It’s about meeting them where they’re at.
Seeing who they are and what they want to know, and what you might have expected for them. before you met them. Totally.
Do you feel vindicated on UBI, with the direct cash payments happening across the world and, to a lesser extent, here?
I certainly feel very grateful to everyone who supported my campaign, that we managed to advance a policy that I believe is vital right now, given the Depression era levels of unemployment we’re facing. We need to pass universal basic income as quickly as possible, because many of these jobs that have disappeared, they’re not going to return.
What I thought was so remarkable about your campaign is that, four years ago, I don’t think this would ever even be mentioned on a debate stage. And here’s a guy who’s managed to make it one of the most talked about issues of 2020. You were always talking about jobs being automated out of existence — but, you know, I’m sure you didn’t predict a jobs ‘cliff.’
We’re experiencing 10 years worth of change in 10 weeks. We’ve really just sped up the timeline for a lot of the things I was concerned about. And we need to accelerate solutions to solve the problems.
Move Humanity Forward, my non profit, is giving economic relief to families that need it the most right now. We’ve distributed over $3 million already, and we’re going to be at $6 million by the end of next week. So that’s something that we’re doing to help people immediately. We’re also supporting candidates who believe we need to have universal basic income in this country as quickly as possible. So the energy around the movement just keeps on growing.
Do you give your kids an allowance? Is it $1,000 a month?
We are trying to work on getting them to an allowance, but I was thinking something much smaller. Like three or four dollars a week. I’m having an easier time with a younger son than the older one. The older one just said something like, “you’ll pay for that anyway.”