How Andrew Yang's appeal echoes Ross Perot's

In the culture war that currently cleaves America, there are three sides. There are progressives who believe that racism, nativism, and misogyny powered Donald Trump’s rise and must be defeated. There are conservatives who believe that Trump’s election was a response to “political correctness”—the left’s effort to demonize as bigoted anyone who defends the traditions that made America great. And there’s a third group that thinks it’s all a dangerous distraction, a fight over where to place the chaise longues on the Titanic. What’s killing America, this camp argues, is bad economics; treat that and the identity hatreds will fade. Over the past quarter century, two presidential candidates have mobilized these economics-first, culture-war-indifferent voters into a potent force. The first was Ross Perot. The second is Andrew Yang…

In 1992, Perot won 19 percent of the vote, the highest for any third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. Perot’s supporters were disproportionately young, white, male, and secular. On culture-war issues, according to a study by FiveThirtyEight, they were all over the map: pro-choice, pro–death penalty, anti–gun control, and anti–affirmative action. What distinguished them was the intensity of their views about “economic nationalism, reform, and the budget.”

Almost three decades later, Yang is assembling a similar coalition with an updated version of Perot’s message. For the Texas billionaire, the root cause of America’s ills was debt. For Yang, it’s robots. “The reason Donald Trump was elected was that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin,” Yang told The New York Times last year. “If you look at the voter data, it shows that the higher the level of concentration of manufacturing robots in a district, the more that district voted for Trump.” For Yang, Trump is only the first big calamity that automation will bring. In the coming years, self-driving cars will replace truckers, then similar technology will dispense with “retail workers, call-center workers, fast-food workers, insurance companies, accounting firms.” In The War on Normal People, Yang predicts riots, if not revolution. “We have five to 10 years before truckers lose their jobs,” he told the Times, “and [then] all hell breaks loose.”