St. Olaf College | News

MPR broadcasts Institute conversation with Andrew Yang

Minnesota Public Radio aired the St. Olaf College Institute for Freedom and Community’s recent conversation with former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

The “MPR News Presents” program broadcast the discussion on air Wednesday, September 9, and featured it on the broadcast web page.

The conversation, which was hosted by Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community Edmund Santurri, was titled “Andrew Yang on a Nation in Crisis.” It is part of the Institute’s 2020 fall series, The Presidential Election and a Nation in Crisis: Polarization, Pandemic, Prejudice

Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community Edmund Santurri (left) in conversation with Andrew Yang.
Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community Edmund Santurri (left) poses a question to Andrew Yang during the event.

Yang, most recently a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, skyrocketed to fame during the election season. This was due largely to his championing of universal basic income — a $1,000 “Freedom Dividend” given monthly to each American citizen over 18. It was this concept to which Yang made repeated references as the conversation turned to unrest, police violence, and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Acknowledging the racial tension in America, Yang spoke of two different movements which must coalesce in pursuit of a more fair America. First, he touted the ability of his Freedom Dividend to lessen the wage gap between races. He explained that to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and the world’s richest person, $1,000 a month would be unnoticeable, but to a struggling family or single parent, this money would be a lifeline The paychecks would allow individuals safety from worrying about a month without income. A notable side effect, he offered, would be supplemented paychecks for artists, non-profit workers, and homemakers.

Then, turning to police violence, he paused. “Police brutality is, in my opinion, its own set of policy failures,” he said. He noted that one study showed police officers spending less than one seventh as much time in de-escalation training as compared to firearm training. Yang seldom returned to his characteristic issue of universal basic income without mentioning its increased effect on marginalized communities. 

Andrew Yang shares his thoughts during the conversation hosted by the St. Olaf Institute for Freedom and Community on September 1.
Andrew Yang shares his thoughts during the conversation hosted by the St. Olaf Institute for Freedom and Community on September 1.

Yang also expressed support not for defunding but rather restructuring and retraining police officers. On the question of race and economics, Santurri’s conversation with Yang frequently turned to the complex and reciprocal relationship between these two domains, stressing their shared entanglement, rather than mutual exclusivity. 

One broader theme evident throughout the conversation concerned what Santurri identified as Yang’s desire to bridge divides within a starkly polarized political climate. Indeed, as Santurri signaled in his opening remarks about Yang, one thing that stood out about his candidacy was that he sought to “break the bonds of political polarization with calls to [his] supporters and Democrats to try to understand the other side.” 

When Santurri asked about division in America, specifically about the oftentimes partisan divide over mask-wearing and the coronavirus, Yang offered a resounding endorsement of science and scientists. In the following question and answer session, Yang continued to express his concern over how media consumption is driving partisanship, noting that in an increasingly polarized America, short and scripted television appearances are becoming the norm. He endorsed longer-form interviews in which individuals could really get to know their candidates’ policies and even went so far as to say that the government should consider supporting news agencies who devoted their air-time to this medium.

In the final minutes of the Q&A, students asked about big tech, government surveillance, and social media. Yang expressed his support for the upcoming implementation of the California Consumer Privacy Act, which he helped create and which serves, he said, as a “bill of rights” for online information. He also spoke out against cancel culture, identifying it as an outgrowth of polarizing news media and instantaneous online feedback. He likewise believes in controls on the information gathered by social media companies like Facebook. 

Students closed out the session with two aspirational questions for Yang about the future of voting. Yang went into great detail on how he hopes to limit congressional terms, create proportional representation in presidential elections, and implement ranked-choice voting, which he expects will catch on “like wildfire.” 

In his parting comments, Yang encouraged all students to get involved in politics in the ways that were meaningful to them. “Just be careful,” he said “because it can become addictive.”