Good men and bad faith: the Andrew Yang situation

Andrew Yang at his first official campaign appearance. Photo: Stephen Yang

I’m just going to come right out and say it.

I like Andrew Yang.

I have always believed that the 46-year-old former presidential candidate has presented himself as thoughtful, pragmatic, open to any criticism against him and willing to push a few buttons himself by putting forth bold new ideas for America. Plus, in hindsight, who wouldn’t like to be getting $1,000/month these days?

At one point, Mr. Yang’s “freedom dividend” sounded like a radical proposal. Pie-in-the-sky and undoable! And, while a monthly rate of return from our tax dollars may seem a little optimistic, there’s little doubt that Yang’s rhetoric contributed to the at-that-point unprecedented personal loans of the CARES Act. Undoable? Yes.

Until you do it.

Three days ago, Yang announced his candidacy for mayor of New York City, offering a campaign built on strong promises and some of his signature bold ideas. While a recent Public Policy Poll has him at a slim one-point lead over his closest competitor, I remain optimistic about his chances, as well as his career at large.

But plenty of others have not responded in kind to Mr. Yang’s first steps into this new phase of his life, returning to our usual skepticism of politicians. Recent spurnings include narratives over his “New Yorkness,” how his relocation during the worst of the pandemic demonstrates a lack of commitment to the city, and even whether or not he knows what an actual bodega is (and if he does know, then he’s trying to trick you!).

Yang’s description of this establishment as a “bodega” was met with some disagreement. Though officially categorized as a deli, its owner Sofwan Qaid also refers to it as the former. Qaid called some of the response to the video as “not nice.” Photo: @AndrewYang

These people, then, would believe that Andrew Yang is acting in bad faith. He is disingenuous and deceitful, putting on likable airs for the masses just so he can get your vote and the power that comes with it. And don’t get me wrong, we have good reason to be suspicious of political hopefuls with populist appeal.

But I will go out on a limb here: Mr. Yang has my every confidence that he really, truly, believes in what he says. His own faith in himself is good and strong, and whatever bad faith he has it would likely be in a more existentialist sense. Sartreans might say that he denies himself his fullest life experience by playing the part of the politician, only for such a path to be his undoing thanks to the cynical rejections against him!

But, I ask you this, dear reader: when has Mr. Yang ever given up the act? When has he ever revealed his true face, mask off? Over the past couple years Mr. Yang’s lifestyle has been one under constant exposure and media scrutiny. And while there may be some instances in his past that are worth critical evaluation, Mr. Yang has maintained a public image of grace, intelligence both general and emotional, and relatability.

I understand that in many ways it is in our nature to question authority and those who seek it. Speaking from an American perspective, it is a fundamental part of our history and shared culture, so much so that it is considered one of our utmost responsibilities. In many ways, to some of us, it’s like a job.

But, I want to go back for a second to the existentialist concept of bad faith. Sartre best described the idea with the following (paraphrased) example: you are in a diner and see a waiter, who you find to be offensively “waiteresque.” Your server is very polite and doting not because he wants to be, but because he believes he has to be. The waiter believes it is for his benefit to behave in the way that he does, when in fact this could not be farther from the truth. Such behavior will not elevate him from his status as an exploited proletariat, and his obsequiousness has only drawn from you your contempt and ire! The waiter has placed in his job, the greatest responsibility for his own livelihood, bad faith decisions. He has taken the role too seriously, all to his own ultimate disadvantage.

I worry then that it is not Yang that is acting in bad faith, but rather it is us Americans voters. Some of us, anyway. We’ve been through a Hell of a lot as a nation, and as a consequence we’ve been conditioned to be skeptical and wary of gestures of goodness. We act as freedomless, unthinking automatons toward our master that is dissent, because it is what we believe to be right. But sometimes we give the idea too much credence, and our suspicions of one politician’s character has in the past cost us our progress as a nation. We should not let this happen again.

We must give Andrew Yang a chance.

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