Andrew Yang’s Faux Progressivism


Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang is touted by his supporters to be the candidate that can achieve the “progressive” goals he’s established thus far. We should get one thing straight about Yang, though. He is moderate at best and his progressivism is non-existent.

American politics exists in a binary of Republican and Democratic, where Republicans are on the right and Democrats on the left. Many democrats claim to build their platform on progressivism when often, their ideology isn’t a far blow from the right. Both parties have far more in common than they would like to admit — historically, neither party rejects capitalism or imperialism. Yang is one of many candidates who are truly moderate but brand themselves as “liberal.” In particular, Yang’s immigration policy is inconsistent and reductive.

Thanks to internet archives, like the WayBack Machine, people can see for themselves the progression of Yang’s rhetoric regarding immigration. In March of last year, Yang’s pathway to citizenship plan encouraged the continuation of America seeking highly skilled workers and condemns undocumented immigrants by writing that “they’re not supposed to be here.” Before internet backlash Yang’s website stated: “The current system we have in place, when it works, does a great job of ensuring that highly skilled, hard-working, and invested immigrants can come to this country and assimilate, becoming new Americans who contribute greatly to our society.” His website no longer directly calls for assimilation or for immigrants to “earn” their citizenship, but his policy remains the same: that America should prioritize highly skilled workers and punish undocumented people. This is hardly the rhetoric of someone who is progressive — it is more akin to Yang’s right-wing colleagues.

It is suspicious that Yang is quick to change his wording in order to be more palatable rather than changing his policy. If there was a lesson for him to learn from the backlash it was that he shouldn’t demand that people earn their citizenship, not that he just needs to be more careful with his wording. It is important for candidates to constantly become more educated about certain issues. Unfortunately, many candidates claim to have learned from their problematic mistakes, when in fact, all they do is mask their unchanged conservative ideologies with progressive diction. Even though Yang’s website changed their wording from “assimilate” to “integrate” the message remains the same: Immigrants should abandon their culture in order to be American.

Yang brands his immigration policies as humane but his pathway to citizenship plan is 18 years long and still deports those who do not start the application process. Firstly, 18 years is an extremely long time to withhold citizenship rights. All people deserve access to government assistance. America should not be in the business of perpetuating poverty. Secondly, deportation is a cruel punishment that does not serve anyone involved. Progressive candidates should call for open borders. Our current border system does not serve to promote human rights nor justice.

Yang supporters should stop pretending he is a progressive king and recognize him for what he is: moderate and reductive. Many of my critiques go for almost all of the democratic candidates, but Yang specifically has garnered the support of many college-age people. His ability to pander to young people under the guise of progressivism has earned him attention, but let us redirect our energy elsewhere.

Just because Yang took down his direct call for immigrants to earn their citizenship, that does not mean that his policies have changed. Our immigration policy should not force people to earn their citizenship through their skills or punish those who did not have the option to become documented. Immigration policies that prioritize people with highly trained skills send the message that people’s value is tied to their ability to contribute to the economy rather than something they are innately born with. This neoliberal ideology is a trademark of conservatism and something America should reject. In rejecting this, people will be valued for their humanness.