Is Andrew Yang Trolling?

Is Andrew Yang Trolling?
Image:Andy Kiss (Getty Images)

Former presidential candidate and current New York City mayoral race frontrunner Andrew Yang received a litany of criticism over the weekend, particularly for a Twitter post in which Yang celebrated National Pet Day by giving a shout-out to a beloved dog he had to give away.

“On #NationalPetsDay celebrating our dog Grizzly who we raised as a puppy but had to give away because one of our boys became allergic to him,” Yang tweeted. “Miss you Grizz! #dogsforyang.”

Many Twitter users took issue with the fact that the dog breed Yang was displaying, a Maltese, is considered hypoallergenic. But no dog is 100 percent hypoallergenic, and dander from even so-called hypoallergenic dogs can trigger allergic reactions. So the fact that the Yang family had to give away a dog that was triggering allergies for one of their sons isn’t the war crime many are treating it as. But Yang’s follow-up tweet certainly did him no favors.

Yang posted an old video of Grizz barking incessantly and pawing at his leg, begging for attention. Every pet is prone to this kind of behavior at inconvenient moments—a cat plopping down on a computer’s keyboard while its owner is hard at work, a dog yapping in the background during a zoom meeting—but the optics of the unreturned affection were unfortunate given the context.

And the “He still remembers Daddy” comment certainly didn’t help. To quote Nene Leakes, “It’s getting weird.”

Yang’s wife, Evelyn, tried her hand at damage control late Sunday night, assuring the angered masses that Grizz is perfectly happy and living his life as a “beach dog” these days and even included a recent photo for good measure. But the damage was already done: at best, he waded into a trending hashtag (that he didn’t need to); at worst—and, frankly, least charitable—Yang is an insensitive former dog owner.

As ridiculous as this controversy is, it was the least alarming thing he tweeted that day. Hours before dog-gate, Yang tweeted, “You know what I hear over and over again – that NYC is not enforcing rules against unlicensed street vendors. I’m for increasing licenses but we should do more for the retailers who are paying rent and trying to survive.”

About an hour later, perhaps after noting the backlash his tweet received, he followed up with, “I’d like to bring more unlicensed vendors into the legal market. Education for immigrant/non English speaking vendors on rules of vending, opening more spaces for legal outdoor vending, working with small businesses to broker tensions all would help.”

Small business owners of mom and pop shops are a powerful voting bloc, and having a candidate’s poster in their storefront window is an incredible marketing tool for politicians. But while legitimate grievances exist for this demographic, especially during the covid-19 pandemic, not all of their gripes need to be given substantial weight. Small business owners in New York City feel needlessly threatened by everything from bike lanes to express bus routes. Apparently we can throw harmless abuelitas selling churros and mango with tajín on the subway platforms into the mix as well—assuming these nameless people complaining “over and over” again to Yang are real.

These unlicensed food vendors already receive a litany of harassment by law enforcement. The last thing they need is a mayor who erases the plight of the New Yorkers selling food to survive simply because they aren’t operating out of a brick-and-mortar location.

When I interviewed Andrew Yang in early 2019, he was a burgeoning phenomenon with an enthusiastic—and, at times, controversial—base of supporters, a passion for universal basic income, and lots to talk about regarding his past as a goth rock teen. Fast forward two years later, and the businessman without a lick of experience in elected office is now a household name with a double-digit lead in the New York City mayoral race, leading even Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in the polls.

During the presidential race, Yang often came across as affable but aloof, as well as gaffe-prone on matters of race and class and even bread and butter Democratic Party matters like abortion. His mayoral run isn’t much different: He was criticized early on for defending his escape from New York City during the pandemic, saying, “Can you imagine trying to have two kids on virtual school in a two-bedroom apartment, and then trying to do work yourself?” Yes, actually, it’s the only option at most New Yorkers’ disposal. He was also clowned for posting a video of himself fawning over bodegas while shopping in a deli that, despite technically being a bodega, is much fancier and far more spacious than the average New Yorker’s reliable corner store joint for a quick breakfast, groceries, and late-night munchies.

But Yang has also presented some alluring ideas, like giving New York City residents $1,000 a month and converting hotels into affordable housing. He also wants to fill potholes—not exactly novel, but who doesn’t want filled potholes? Still Yang’s good ideas are weighed down by less appealing details in the small print. For example, he believes his UBI program would make other safety nets that depend on taxpayer money, like homelessness programs, redundant. This presents concerns about what other programs could be thrown under the bus and justifying the act because, hey, everyone is getting $1,000 more per month, right? As Bryce Covert noted in a recent New York Times op-ed about Yang’s UBI program, “there is no way a basic income could ever come close to the vast array of assistance the government currently provides.”

But the average voter doesn’t know anything about Yang’s dog, and they certainly don’t know about his UBI program beyond “$1,000 checks.” That alone could be enough to propel him to victory. Get ready for more weird tweets from Yang in the future—but in a year’s time, they might be coming from the mayor of the largest city in the country, rather than an awkward businessman wearing “Math” hats who doesn’t seem to comprehend much about the landscape in which he lives.

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