On election day in 2016, I was visiting San Francisco, watching the electoral vote count add up for Trump until it became clear that he was going to be elected. I was somewhere between being disappointed and devastated, as to me, he was the epitome of a terrible leader.
Of course, the hatred started flying. People were outraged, the usual jokes about moving to Canada, doomsday predictions, and the bashing of Trump supporters.
I grew up in Wisconsin, which ended up being the “tipping point” state that put Trump over the top. I voted in the primaries there (for John Kasich, I was looking for the most moderate Republican) that year before moving out to California. I lived in Ohio for the 2012 and 2016 elections, which was a major swing state for Obama. I wasn’t in the camp of people from these states being “deplorables” as Hillary Clinton had so infamously called them.
I was mad, disappointed, disillusioned that the country would elect someone like Trump. But I wanted to be empathetic instead of condescending. The people in those states have a lot in common with everyone else. They just wanted to put food on the table and live a happy life, and I’m guessing that many of them were worried about being able to do that. These weren’t deplorables voting for Trump, these were real human beings who wanted normal human things. And if we can help them get those normal human things, that would make everyone better off.
I tried to do something productive with the situation. I started a Facebook group called “Back to the middle movement.” The mission was “to understand the political issues of all parties, come up with win-win solutions, and make these solutions a reality.” The strategy would be the 541 method, based off the 7 Habits of effective people:
- Phase 1, Habit #5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood
- Phase 2, Habit #4: Think win-win
- Phase 3, Habit #1: Be proactive
Some people joked that I should run for president. For a fleeting moment, I thought maybe I needed to get into politics to fix these things. But I quickly realized it didn’t fit my lifestyle. I consider myself a lifestyle entrepreneur, anything I do needs to fit the lifestyle I want, which is time, location, and financial freedom.
Fast forward to October of 2018. I was at the ACE NextGen conference for Asian-American entrepreneurs. We had asked this former Asian entrepreneur who was running for president to speak. My first thought was, that’s nice, at least he’ll break the barrier for us, and it’ll be the answer to a nice trivia question. These conferences usually get a few politicians, and as much as I think politicians are a necessary evil, they did make an effort to show up, so I try to be appreciative and respectful.
I met Andrew Yang in the lobby before the event took a picture with him, almost out of courtesy, to support him. I didn’t even care enough to take a solo picture with him. Luckily, I was next to him so I was able to crop out the other people when needed (sorry to the others in the picture). I made some small talk with him, told him hey, you got a mention on FiveThirtyEight today! Right away I noticed something really strange. I didn’t hate the guy. I almost liked him. The ACE NextGen organization is for generous, community focused Asian entrepreneurs, and he would’ve fit right in as a conference participant.
During his fireside chat, I got a chance to ask a question. I said he probably has the support in our Asian American entrepreneur community, but why would people in Iowa vote for you? His answer sounded really similar to what I thought was the real issue: he was concerned about the working class folks in the Midwest and elsewhere, and how we needed to help them. When you hear someone who sounds like what you’re thinking, you start paying attention.
I did some research on him, and I saw that he had done all this non-profit work with cities in the Midwest, encouraging entrepreneurship and business. His message about “not left, not right, forward” was the better version of “back to the middle.” He wanted to focus on solving problems instead of partisan politics. His “human centered capitalism” was a much bigger version my “lifestyle entrepreneur” philosophy. He was an Asian man who was good at math. I’m basically looking into a mirror. Well, maybe one of those fun house mirrors that make you look skinnier/better than you actually are.
I was excited because I had the entrepreneur’s dream: I could hire someone to do the work for me. So Andrew became the first candidate I ever donated to, or even publicly supported (unless you count me asking people to vote anyone but Trump). He was much more than an upstart candidate, he was basically a role model. Someone who was similar to me to show me it could be done.
He was criticized a bit from the Asian community for perpetuating the MATH stereotype, but for me he showed me that not only was it OK to be the MATH nerd, but it was a trait that drew millions of followers who would literally give him money and time for. He made MATH and Asian men cool. Being a problem solver was a desired trait. Over my whole career, I sometimes felt like my Asian traits were something to be trained out of me. You need to speak up more. Just being good at solving problems wasn’t good enough. You need to be loud and obnoxious to be a good leader. But Andrew Yang made it great to have Asian traits. (OK, maybe he could’ve spoken up a little more, but maybe it was because of the mic).
No, he doesn’t represent all Asian Americans. There are plenty of Asians who aren’t good at math. But he leaned in to who he was, and I’m OK with that. He never said vote for me because I’m Asian, and all Asians are good at MATH. He resonated with me and the American people. It did much more good than it did harm.
He did such a great job of bridging math with real life. Human centered capitalism. Let’s find a better metric than GDP and the stock market price. He’s the Moneyball of politicians.
After the conference, I remember telling someone I kinda like this guy, maybe I’ll get him on my upstart Asian entrepreneur podcast someday. Little did I know he was about to take off a lot faster than my now on hiatus podcast did. Thank you Andrew for being a role model to me. I’ll still get you on the podcast someday.