The Power Seeker

Andrew Yang’s Asian American nonpolitics

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Let me start by making a bet. I have the misfortune of filing this in late May, a few anything-goes weeks ahead of the primary on June 22, but by the time it’s in print: Andrew Yang will have strode first across the finish line, claiming the Democratic nomination to challenge for New York City’s 110th mayoralty.

The spoils? 635,000 vanished jobs during the pandemic’s first year for a 13.6 percent loss, more than twice the national average. An exodus of mostly hyper-wealthy residents and their tax dollars; record numbers of single adults living in homeless shelters. More than a million New Yorkers have tested positive for Covid, with over a hundred thousand hospitalizations. Dr. Fauci predicted in April 2020 that ultimately some sixty thousand would die nationwide; a year later, the city alone had lost more than half that number. While the NYPD admitted crime overall dropped last year by nearly seven hundred victims, the murder rate increased by nearly 45 percent, with 462 dead and shooting incidents almost twice the previous year’s count. Hate crimes were down, save for the anti-Asian kind, which were up over 800 percent, with twenty-eight reports, the true number likely higher, considering the linguistic and cultural barriers to the community reporting such acts.

Only lately blooming with spring’s vaccination spree, the city’s been somewhat voided over the primary, whether its streets or tax coffers or subways or mayorship. Outgoing mayor Bill de Blasio has maintained a relatively low profile ever since an insipid presidential run saw him absent even during 2019’s summer blackout, too busy chewing the fried-fat-on-a-stick in Iowa and quoting Che Guevara to Cubans in Florida. He kept his tail between his legs when he dropped out, equivocating the following summer on whether or not police should drive SUVs into the protestors out on the streets as so many were across the country, following the murder of George Floyd. I’m entering my fourth decade of increasingly untenable Big Apple provincialism—the metropole’s “Fuck You” ethnic category having voided itself into total caricature long before Covid—and so I wonder: Given New York’s history during my lifetime of electing mayors out of fearful or righteous reaction, what sort of man have we crowned heir apparent?

Enamored of a saccharine Third Way platform disdaining Politics with a capital P, we’ve decided to make New York City fun again by electing an Asian man who is good at math.

Another bet, as I’m making a parlay that the general election won’t see Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa become vigilante-in-chief. That means I’m guessing he wins the Republican primary, safe walks having been in law-and-order vogue in this city long before the pandemic.

So, the mayor ascendant? Not a federal prosecutor who rallied a police riot and conjured visions of marauding squeegee men and trash tornados to incite Caucasoid voters to crack the office door open, then ran through it so fast “all the city saw was a white blur,” as Wayne Barrett once wrote of the currently under-investigation Giuliani? Nor a Small King of downsized sodas and stop and frisk, who used a personal fortune one can only call Bloombergian to outspend his opponent five-to-one, managing to assuage post-9/11 fears of capital flight and sell his Bostonian technocrat self as the mortally wounded city’s savior? Not the (also Bostonian) Luigi-looking too-tall schlemiel who rebuked Bloomberg’s Mario, vowing to end the tale of two cities, his reign marked by some achievements but remembered overall for Bill getting sonned time and again by a yet un-#MeToo’d Governor Cuomo.

Instead, enamored of a saccharine Third Way platform disdaining Politics with a capital P, we’ve decided to make New York City fun again by electing an Asian man who is good at math, as Yang joked during his presidential run, the antipode of the other famous New Yorker who recently tumbled into political stardom. Oddly, Trump is the one from Queens, though admittedly a forever-ago Queens not yet one of the most diverse places on Earth. Yang hails from tony Westchester, an hour north from the city and thus to a New Yorker, one of us borough rustics, upstate.

Move Fast and Build Things

If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. Let that be a lesson to anyone trying to write horse-race adjacent on a print-pub schedule. Our man in Hell’s Kitchen has seemed inevitable, though. Police officers turned borough presidents and sanitation commissioners and city comptrollers and housing non-profit CEOs and the occasional MSNBC legal analyst—Yang’s rivals mostly made their names as local functionaries in the New York political machine. As such, they appear to be logging in from the early aughts, squinting uncomfortably into the camera for forum after Zoom forum. Polls in the spring showed voters undecided but leaning towards the person whose name they know.

A miraculous font of earned media, Yang is known, one should stress, and known such that a mentally unwell man assaulting a photographer at one of his campaign photo-ops in February paused upon seeing the candidate to give hail: “Yang For New York!” Though quickly pacified that day, he would later attack an elderly Asian person, Yang claimed during one of these interminable mayoral forums, this time held under the auspices of the Asian American Federation. That such a person could publicly endorse Yang seems revealing of the current Asian American moment, marked as it is by rudimentary salutations and sudden ambushes. Here I’ll point to my middle name to clarify membership in a demographic only now breaching American public life, if you were to go by the past few years of op-eds and news stories, not to mention our self-declarations. Rather suddenly, we are winning Oscars and climbing bestseller lists and growing faster than any other group of eligible voters nationwide. All this, having been so voiceless before, so inchoate now! “Amid Awakening, Asian Americans Are Still Taking Shape as a Political Force,” runs a recent Times headline; “We’re not taught to speak out,” goes a similar piece in the Guardian. You get the idea.

It is our time, vitally so, desperately too, given the violence and scapegoating on the rise even before Yang threw his blue MATH hat into the mayor’s race last December. Yet such declarations are invariably accompanied by a recital of statistics pointing to the inadequacy and incoherence of the Asian prefix, denoting the people (more than 20 million) and the backgrounds (nearly fifty Asian-origin groups) and the languages (more than one hundred) and the immigration statuses (nearly two-thirds first-gen). We have never had a voice and also there is no we, yadda yadda—but also keep your head on a swivel, hide as much of your face as possible, carry some mace or even a sidearm, as a Yang supporter might be coming your way.

The current Asian American moment is marked by rudimentary salutations and sudden ambushes.

You could look for precedents in Asian American politics, electoral groundbreakers like Hiram Fong and Patsy Mink or the original Taiwanese New York City Democrat mayoral hopeful John Liu. You could also play up the demographic’s leftist origins in the politically fecund 1960s, when a group of student activists called the Asian American Political Alliance popularized the term as a means of building interethnic solidarity while striking for ethnic studies and protesting imperialism. But such academic “well, actually” griping about radical forebears from Grace Lee Boggs to Yuri Kochiyama too easily conflates their singular importance with broader political significance, only working in its ressentiment because few of us know and fewer care. The brevity of our political history is the point. Even if you did know, or should have known better, who doesn’t like to start anew? I’m not dumb enough to say he’s representative, but Yang indicates something about the amnesiac Asian American present that we are both ascribed and claiming. If we’ve been made political ciphers to be wooed out of a mildly purgatorial circle of our ingrained cultural tendencies and disjointed immigration histories and alternating demonization and cold-shouldering by the political establishment, well, here’s your cipher: a happy neophyte intoning, “Not left, not right, forward.”

He beat the country to the punch with that MATH hat, pissing off parts of the Asian American left by bypassing the dilemma of our political ambiguity with a shallow acknowledgment of Asianness as most broadly, and given other possible stereotypes, benignly cast by the rest of the country. Whether or not you read the shibboleth of his popularity as shrewd politicking or community betrayal, his audience always seemed summoned as a white one in need of pacifying. (They doubtlessly would drive themselves into bloodlust otherwise at the sight of a POC.) It probably helped that he mildly bagged on the whites while letting them in on the joke of his actually being an Asian guy relatively good at math, defensiveness and unashamed self-deprecation sharing a more porous border than some of his Asian critics let on. You can say Asians shouldn’t make Asian jokes but that doesn’t mean they don’t.

And so pacify Yang did, before moving on to his core message, delivered, mind you, by a man of Chinese (well, Taiwanese) descent: you’ll soon be out of a job. The “you” was horrifically capacious, including the usual retail worker and truck driver, but also the lawyer and coder and doctor and writer handwringing over whether he’s repeating himself and others when he summarizes the endlessly vague Asian American category yet again. (I am, and the handwringing too.) Jobs were already being lost, and to what? Robots, says the man with the MATH pin on his lapel, i.e., not China, or whichever other metonym for global competition and production offshoring. Then he gets out the salve: this Asian wants to give you $1,000 a month for free.

I’ll say that I think Yang reads the charts the wrong way around. Output rates are falling and productivity isn’t rising, despite our new machine friends. Viewing automation as the primary job loss driver is the classic mistake of automation theorists, historian Aaron Benanav has pointed out. They miss the real twinned problems of overcrowded globalized markets and plummeting rates of fixed capital investment. I haven’t seen an elevator operator in a while, though, and I’d be foolish to not acknowledge massive technology-based job destruction, even if it isn’t the industry-by-industry full automation that Yang fears. UBI is similarly insufficient, tending even in its most left-wing variant to overemphasize what one gives to workers while neglecting what one takes from capital, and how. Still, free money is chill, whether stimmy or NEETbux.

Even if I disagreed with the particulars, there was something beguiling about Yang 2020. It might have been seeing a man looking halfway like me finally scarf corndogs at Midwestern fairs. More intriguing than his prospective success, however, was his preoccupation with failure. Or, which way Asian American professionals? Compare him to Amy Chua, the other best-selling bard of the Asiatic moneyed class, with her hammy keening about jumping hoops as a legacy of four thousand years of Chinese civilization and her warnings about laziness as the cost of assimilation. Yang is all pep-step gloom about meritocracy, Tiger Mom or not, staving off our impending doom, as we’ll always be lazier than the machines. And this pessimism after jumping so many hoops!

Here was an Asian American man who put his nose to the grindstone to become Brown University’s best Street Fighter II player before heading to Columbia Law. Ditching his white collar firm after five months, he cofounded a celebrity charity website with a click-to-donate model made most popular by FreeRice.com, mercifully put down with the rest of the Silicon Alley rejects when the tech bubble burst. After a brief stint in healthcare, he found his calling piloting GMAT tutoring company Manhattan Prep, in time achieving every entrepreneur’s dream, selling his baby to an industry giant (in this case, Kaplan) for millions.

Yang then set out to save the country from the meritocratic nightmare he’d made bank off of, as ambitious people tend to do once they’re financially set. Before he worried about actual robots, he fretted that America’s best and brightest were turning into automatons, funneled to identical finance companies and consulting firms and law schools and living in the same few overpriced locales, left overspecialized and under-fulfilled and handcuffed in gold to their Bloomberg terminals and whatever special computers lawyers use. “We’re breeding large battalions of indifferent professionals in a handful of cities when what we need is something very different,” Yang wrote in his first book, Smart People Should Build Things (2014). That something? Entrepreneurship, start-ups, the rebirth of American innovation, the twenty-first-century MBA mindset through a revanchist filter where you quote Frank Sobotka from The Wire going “We used to make shit in this country” in your pitch deck for Series A funding to send Wesleyan graduates to Detroit to build apartment rental mobile apps called Lndlrd. Or the property management start-up Castle, to take an actual example from Yang’s Venture for America, cribbing obviously from Teach For America, the Neolib Youth wing of the education reform movement fast-tracking bright-eyed and bushy tailed twenty-somethings to snatch up job vacancies from union members and implement the death-by-testing curricula popular with Bushes and Obamas alike. In dilapidated cities across the country, let one hundred thousand maker lab engineers and mobile developers bloom.

So Yang claimed, though recent reporting shows that a measly 150 actual jobs resulted from his American Venture. No matter. Crisscrossing the nation to raise VFA’s needed millions in the mid-2010s, Yang realized he lived in the double bubble of NYC and Silicon Valley, much of the rest of the country decimated, the jobs vanishing, the retail locations boarding up with nearly a Mall of America worth of space closing every two weeks in 2017. The VFA was a cute joke given the dystopia already here but unevenly distributed (Yang abuses Gibson as all abuse Gibson), the Venture “a wall of sand before an incoming tide.” Many were drowning already, and whether the culprit was automation or offshoring or global industrial stagnation, Yang was sufficiently perturbed to do the unthinkable and run for president.

Vast numbers of un- and underemployed, skyrocketing rates of substance abuse, rampant domestic violence, pervasive depression and suicide—all of this haunts Yang’s next book The War on Normal People (2018). The average American has between one credit of college and an associate degree, making seventeen an hour—if working at all—without the savings to pay for an unexpected expense, their precarity in the gig-work and independent contractor trenches further aggravated by force multipliers of race and gender. We will all be normal or worse in the future, spare the Bezos’s and Yangs of the world, no matter how many of us get interned in government coding bootcamps. UBI, what Yang calls the Freedom Dividend, is a necessary but insufficient attempt to begin to disconnect material life from work through a universal policy all sides can get behind, paid for by VAT taxes and folding in most welfare programs, upon hearing which anyone of a typical progressive mindset stops nodding along.

I’m giving too large credit for too small maneuvers. But for as long as I can remember, Asian America has had a heavy dose of meritocratic self-aggrandizing bullshit, and so my ears pricked at Yang’s revelation-turned-sales pitch. Good for him, I thought, self-satisfied, seeing a goofy uncle bumble his way to an isomer of my own political economy predilections, many of the same elements arranged in a differing geometry that spelled “Human-Centered Capitalism” instead of socialism. Reading his case for that dreadful coinage, I noted the Asian American tinge of his admittedly flimsy account of his own savior complex, driven not by some long shadow of four thousand years but an “underdog” childhood of floss-as-blindfold jokes and tiny dick remarks and what I’ll cutely call the c-word. Perhaps it was inevitable that someone would take up that Asian American trope of beating the small-minded racists by working harder than them before taking the resulting capital and printing a monthly stack of largesse for the small-minded racists, often poor in this telling because they didn’t work hard enough, still undeserving of being ground up by this country even if they like you because of a joke about math.

Capital City

But that was then, this is now. You’re reading after the fact, maybe amused at Yang’s Icarian fall, maybe angry I found the new mayor not totally abhorrent at one point in his political career. Mea culpa, and though he’s never been in office, the shtick has felt more ominous as the campaign’s gained steam. If one could waffle on whether his presidential run was a neoliberal Trojan horse—UBI obliterating welfare was difficult to square with Yang’s support for Medicare for All, for instance—intention means little until you’ve won, upon which I’m mostly of the mind that capital will find a way.

I’d remark on what a Trojan horse Yang’s turned out to be, but I’m not sure he’s disguising anything with his rent-a-campaign. As the self-fulfilling media onslaught finally noted in a late souring, top staffers have been sourced from former Bloomberg campaign manager Bradley Tusk’s consulting firm, with its client list of corporate luminaries like Blackstone and Walmart and the Times Square Alliance, those Business Improvement District priests of the city’s Disneyfication. A venture capitalist as well, Tusk helped Uber torpedo New York’s attempt to cap its driver numbers before advising the company on skirting labor regulations around the nation by classifying gig workers as contractors. (He’s flip-flopped in appropriate VC manner, arguing that Uber should become “Ruthlessly Woke” and classify its drivers as employees to crush Lyft.)

Yang set out to save the country from the meritocratic nightmare he’d made bank off of, as ambitious people tend to do once they’re financially set.

Many of the other candidates also staff up with lobbyists; de Blasio tried to shield his extensive communications with real estate and gig economy reps while railing against the consultant class. The situation, though not without precedent, is worrisome, what with Tusk literally describing our Third Way personable impersonality as an “empty vessel.” The Trojans filing in are an eclectic group of political insiders and interests both national and local. PAC money flows by way of Lis Smith, the former Buttigieg booster and advisor for the Republican-caucusing Independent Democratic Conference that held Albany in gridlock for nearly a decade; Chinese American Trump 2016 RNC convention delegate Long Deng is a major donor, as are various other business-oriented Asian conservatives. After hitting progressive primetime for questioning the Governor over his cover up of nursing home Covid deaths, Queens state assemblyman Ron Kim has come out as a supporter, as has New York’s only Asian congresswoman Grace Meng. Prominent too in the Yang Gang is Ritchie Torres, the pseudo-progressive congressman who has doubled down on a baffling and cynical allegiance to Israel, having blaming BDS for a “deep rot of antisemitism” at its core. Yang’s snapped up the city’s sizable Hasidic voting bloc with a similar condemnation, as well as a promise to keep his hands off the infamously poorly performing yeshiva school system. When he tweeted a declaration of New York’s support for Israel after police stormed al-Aqsa, there was widespread condemnation online. The Astoria Welfare Society rescinded an invitation to distribute food for Eid. Yang then retreated to a “Humanity first” paean to both-sides suffering. Centrist Democratic candidates Eric Adams and Ray McGuire remained steadfast and unapologetic despite having made similar statements.

Other promises, delivered in a flurry of entrepreneurial solutionism: a supplementary cash benefit program for half a million of the poorest New Yorkers regardless of immigration history, to be overseen by a newly minted People’s Bank and in need of private fundraising; scaled-up pre-K and subsidized broadband; a proposed vacancy tax that will likely die in Albany; city contracts for minority-and-women-led businesses; buying heaters in bulk to sell to restauranteurs for winter outdoor dining. These appeals are made to citizens and corporations, which is to say, not labor, as Yang forwent the hat-in-hand act candidates often perform for the unions. Rather than romancing the United Federation of Teachers, his educational policy is an appeal to the wealthier and whiter who rally for in-person schooling (non-white parents are more hesitant to trust the perennially underfunded public-school system with their children’s health, it seems). He’s called for holistic admissions that don’t do away with the fractious SHSAT exam that determines admission to the few elite specialized schools, as well as for more such schools; Yang seems to want to thread the needle between equity and not pissing off the Asian bloc who mobilized when de Blasio attempted to abolish the exam years back. “I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools,” said then school chancellor Richard Carranza, surveying a system that routinely admits black students in single-digit numbers to the city’s top institutions. A small but vocal group of Asian Americans protested the proposal for plenty of reasons, but publicly focused on the implication that their children could have taken anything for granted but hard work. I’m in favor of getting rid of the test, and I’m also Bronx Science class of 2007, which probably sounds to those among the aggrieved who have only known the bootstrap and the SHSAT during their time in this country—and not the already well-off psychos who mostly oppose reform because, let’s face it, they think little of Black and brown people—like I’m pulling up the ladder after me.

Education was long the signature issue of said bloc, but perhaps not anymore. (East) Asian can collectors and laid-off dim sum cart workers and poetry professors and start-up CEOs stand united in our discomfort, a violent miasma upon us as we venture into public tense with anticipation, the air thrumming with videos of this beating and that mugging seemingly anywhere there are Asian Americans. The why’s can seem easy, obvious. Wuhan will be a dirty word in much of the country for a long time, I imagine, and then there’s the bipartisan hawkishness on China, an easy target for an insecure white majority growing more hostile as they’re increasingly outnumbered. Id-pol demographers sometimes assume there will be an American rainbow utopia when the white count dips below 50 percent, and now I’m paraphrasing from a speech Yang gave in 2019 and so I might as well quote him: “I think we’re one generation away from falling into the same camps as the Jews who were attacked in the synagogue in Pittsburgh just a couple of months ago. We’re probably one generation away from Americans shooting a bunch of Asians saying, ‘Damn the Chinese.’”

That shooting came, or something like it. Eight murdered in three Atlanta massage parlors, six of them immigrant Asian women, the culprit a young white evangelical named Robert Aaron Long who reportedly blamed his sex addiction. The massacre happened the day before St. Patrick’s, an oblivious Yang tweeting in the evening that he needed a green scarf. The next morning he gave a string of centrist laments, how the heart goes out and “Racism is dehumanizing.” He also made an odd mention of Georgia’s Asian voters cinching the Senate for the Democrats in Reverend Warnock and Jon Ossoff’s run-off elections. Since then, through thick and thin (and a later Times Square shooting in the midst of God knows how many cops), Yang has held the pro-police line, advocating for even more officers, emphasizing the Asian Hate Crimes Task Force the NYPD launched last year. At a rally in Chinatown’s Columbus Park the weekend following Long’s rampage, Yang made his position clear: “We feared that this day would come, we feared that some of our people would be shot for no other reason than their race and unfortunately that is exactly what occurred last week in Atlanta.” A hate crime is a hate crime, he told his audience, multiracial in composition but Asian in his address; this city is ours; de Blasio dropped out before me in the presidential race; and fuck your mutual aid and fuck defunding the cops. “You don’t say, let volunteers take care of that,” Yang declared, boos mixing in with the applause. “You dedicate resources until that problem feels like it is going down, not up.”

Sinopessimism

But a hate crime is a hate crime is a hate crime, and it might not tell you much, outside of the victim’s identity. Its incidents litanized like our languages and ethnicities, the anti-Asian violence can feel as inchoate as the demographic targeted. This despite the frequency and subsequent discussion, which flows online in a torrent of imperatives demanding We. Stop. Everything. and infographics hectoring as they are incomplete and initiatives deciding now’s the time to make a pun about discrimin-Asian. At this point I will be dumb enough to argue that Asian Americans are finding their voice at a uniquely stupid moment in media history, all of us barraged with documentation of some sorrowful mess and encouraged to say the shortest thing most directly. I’m left exhausted then by the posting, even when I agree. I understand that we have been conditioned to publicly beat our chest alongside thousands of others, hitting a red Staples button that says “This is a hate crime” instead of “That was easy.” I also find it insufficient to group the acts of Robert Aaron Long —and his very specific mix of fundamentalist guilt and ready gun access and view of Asian women working in these parlors as sin incarnate—with those, say, of Brandon Elliot, a homeless Black man who ferociously assaulted a Filipino woman in Hell’s Kitchen while on parole for murdering his mother with a knife at nineteen. Or, for that matter, with any of the other prominent assault cases in my city involving someone in severe need of mental health resources, often unhoused, often Black.

I understand why some Asian Americans are finding their voices in calling for more cops, as little as I agree. I myself am left staggered by the response demanded. Perhaps I share a bit of Yang’s solutionism, as abhorrent as I’d like to find his insistence on punishment. I know it’s white supremacy, I know it’s whorephobia, I know it’s imperialism, and I also would proffer that none of these terms would do anything to convince Long or Elliot or anyone else committing these acts to do otherwise. Maybe the Overton window shifts as we string together every aggression, micro and major, via the semantically vague #StopAsianHate, a net positive that feels insufficient given the terrifying contingency and ease of this violence.

I’m predicting a significant further red pilling of yellow America, a guns and GMAT faithful backing the boys in blue.

But things remain unwell in the discourse despite our hashtags, and 2045 may not bring the rainbow coalition. Asian America is not America toto, and people noticed when we jumped through one hoop remarkably fast, an anti-Asian hate crimes bill passing through Congress as legislation against lynching has languished for more than 120 years. Meanwhile, I can show you a half a dozen message boards and comment sections full of Asian Americans furiously resenting the idea that, after long being unheard, they owe anyone anything. “Seniors are getting smashed and robbed in the streets and”—and then there’s the “and” that connects those attacks to another recital, from violence experienced but unreported to impostor syndrome to racialized sexual harassment to mainstream invisibility, in a catalogue of injustices as numerous as there are Asian Americans. Scratches on the tabula, another bet from the Shen family seer: given a third of us voted Republican in 2020 for the Queens native, I’m predicting a significant further red pilling of yellow America, a guns and GMAT faithful backing the boys in blue. Which isn’t to say there aren’t Asian Americans horrified by all of this, just that I’m going to hedge my bets, as I’ve read my Carranza, and I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one political tendency commands the allegiance of this ethnic group.

For many, Atlanta was soon eclipsed. Nearly two hundred mass shootings nationwide since the beginning of the year, and more than five hundred shootings in New York as of mid-May. The morning of my writing this, men punched and slashed subway riders, stabbing one in the eye; the transit workers’ union has called for more cops in stations and on trains. If Yang ever considered defunding the police, I imagine he’s calculated that winning on the issue is unlikely. Defunding polls poorly nationwide, if you’re wont to heed polls, as an Asian man good at math might.

He’s making decisions, neophyte no more. Yang’s ascendancy marks a step past the Asian American rudiment. He may also be the first mayor that feels truly this century. Black, Italian, Jewish, even de Blasio’s Kraut with a vowel-ended last name leaning hard on his Black kids—this is old world stuff. For the highest profile Asian American politician in the country—Kamala is complicated—why not a Taiwanese Zionist? (I’m sure someone’s made a mind-boggling argument for Taiwanese-Israeli kinship, what with two nations’ beleaguered self-understandings, both reliant on U.S. military hegemony.) The bloom might then soon be off the rose for both Yang and Asian Americans. You could be broadly optimistic about the demographic’s future, their reaching some ideological consensus driven by the events of the past few years. But if Yang’s worry all along was that the Chinese will be the new Jews in a generation or two, my own is that Asian Americans will emerge from our primordial state to replay the politics this country already knows, maybe better here, probably worse there. Why would we be any better?

Call it Sinopessimism, a dread of our specificity, with a dash of New Yorker naysaying—and my own detour now, because even if I don’t see myself in Yang as either Asian or New Yorker, he is a New Yorker. How moronic it is to deny his claim to being one, as if—to pick some deeply corny examples from his campaign—New York wasn’t equally the home of bubble tea socials and parodies of that song from Rent? Of crypto geeks and commonsense appeals to public safety, of concerned citizens who want full-time school reopening and the police to mete out punishment regardless of the assaulter’s identity and an austerity-primed steady tax base buoyed against the specter of capital flight that’s dogged leftist visions since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s? The American moment, Asian and otherwise, today requires you to be able to hold the cringe and the serious together in your brain. So don’t come whining to me, the born-and-bred, when you realize that these jokers are your neighbors, some even preceding you. They vote too.

Matthew Shen Goodman is a writer and a senior editor at Triple Canopy.

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