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Calling Bullshit

America: Is it only a dream?

Calling Bullsh!t March 16, 2022 854


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Our guests

Andrew-Yang-Headshot_highrez
Andrew Yang

@andrewyang

Entrepreneur, author, philanthropist, non-profit leader & former U.S. Presidential and NYC Mayoral candidate

David-Safavian
David Safavian

@dsafavianesq

General Counsel of American Union Conservative & Director of ACU Foundation’s Nolan Center for Justice.

unnamed
Jaeki Cho

@jaekicho

Producer of Documentary Film “Bad Rap“, Co-Owner of Alumni of NY, Freelance Writer

Basil Soper
Basil Soper

@basil_soper

Lead Researcher/Guest Curator of Calling Bullsh!t Podcast

T.Means01
Tatewin Means

Executive Director of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation & Former Attorney General of Oglala Sioux Tribe

Jonathan Craig
Jonathan Craig

Father & Pool Technician

Penelope Soper
Penelope Soper

Elementary School Student

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Mikaela Reid

Audio Producer of The New York Times & Former Jr. Producer of Calling Bullsh!t Podcast

*Requested to not have headshot shown

blank-profile-picture-973460_640
Adrian Bonenberger

Army Veteran & Authors of “Afghan Post” and “The Disappointed Soldier and Other Stories From War”

*Requested to not have headshot shown

blank-profile-picture-973460_640
Yvonne Clarke

Former Law Secretary

*Requested to not have headshot shown

blank-profile-picture-973460_640
Andrean Clarke

Public School Teacher

*Requested to not have headshot shown

The American story has inspired multitudes. But today, it seems to be in peril. Is the story still true? Was it ever?

Purpose: No matter who you are or where you come from, if you live here, work hard, and generally operate as a good citizen, there is no end to how far you can go. America is a true meritocracy; a land of opportunity that is open to all.

This episode looks at one of the most powerful purpose-led organizations in the world: The United States of America. With polarization and animosity between the left and the right at record levels, is the American dream still alive? What needs to be done to make our shared purpose clear, inspiring, and true?

We ask a wide variety of people who identify as Americans, and one who does not, to weigh in. We reach across the political spectrum to hear different takes before having an in-depth discussion about potential solutions with former (and future?) presidential candidate, Andrew Yang.

I tried to pin down why polarization is getting worse and why it doesn’t seem like big solutions are imminent and I concluded that our system is working exactly as it’s designed. It’s just not designed to succeed.

– Andrew Yang

Americas’s BS score is

Show notes

  • Take a trip back to high school with one of the most lauded poems in our nation’s history — Harlem by Langston Hughes. 
  • Where did the “American Dream” come from anyway? This short read from the Bush Institute traces its roots.
  • What do Putin’s actions in Ukraine tell us about the values of America? And which of these values are worth fighting for across the globe?
Episode Transcript

[SOT] [schoolchildren saying the pledge of allegiance

[SOT]  CBS –  A Polarized America

[SOT] Washington Post – Trump Supporters

[SOT]  MSNBC – Chuck Schumer

[SOT]   PBS – Political Polarization

THEME MUSIC: “In Passage” by Migration

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

Welcome to Calling Bullshit, a podcast about purpose-washing – the gap between what companies say they stand for and what they actually do — and what they would need to change to practice what they preach. I’m your host, Ty Montague. I’ve spent over a decade helping companies define what they stand for — their purpose — and helped them to use that purpose to drive transformation throughout their business.

Unfortunately, at a lot of organizations today, there’s still a pretty wide gap between word and deed. That gap has a name: we call it Bullshit. 

But — and this is important — we believe that BS is a treatable disease. So when the BS detector lights up, we’re going to explore things that the organization should do to fix it. 

MUSIC: “In This Proud Land A” by APM

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

Today we’re examining one of the biggest and most powerful organizations in the world. And it became big and powerful, at least in part, because of a great story and an aspirational purpose. 

I’m talking, of course, about the United States of America.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

It’s tough to pin down a succinct purpose statement for America. Is it in the Declaration of Independence? Or in the Constitution? 

Is it in a President’s speech? Or on a coin? 

Elements of America’s purpose can be found in all of these artifacts, but to me, there’s one thing that truly captures the spirit of this country’s purpose the best – let’s call it the American Dream. 

Which goes something like this: 

No matter who you are or where you come from, if you live here, work hard, and generally operate as a good citizen, there is no end to how far you can go. America is a true meritocracy; a land of opportunity that is open to all.

MUSIC: “Star Spangled Banner” by APM

TY MONTAGUE (VO)
But is this even true? Is our current polarization a sign that the dream just a bunch of Bullshit? 

Get out your BS detector and join me and special guest Andrew Yang on a quest to find out. 

MUSIC: “In Passage” by Blue Dot Sessions

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

As we prepped this episode, it became clear that even as a tight knit podcasting team, we had differing opinions about the idea of the American dream. And so, we hit the record button on ourselves.  

SFX: button click

Ty Montague

Can I, can I ask you, um, so, when I say the words, the American dream to both of you, like what, what do those words mean to you?

Mikaela Reid

I just feel like I struggle with the term, because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my Jamaican parents coming from their native country and trying to find a better life for their family here in America, having access to jobs and medical care that they might not have had in Jamaica. So I’m definitely thankful I’m able to be a first-generation American. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

That’s Mikaela Reid, a producer on Calling BS.

Mikaela Reid

But yeah, I just, I feel like to call it a dream makes it sound better than what it is. Everyone should have access to housing. Like that shouldn’t necessarily be a dream. It should be a requirement. Everyone should have the ability, if they’re sick, to go to a hospital and have the right amount of care for their illnesses, regardless of their income. 

Ty Montague

Yeah, that makes sense. The story I thought I saw unfolding in America previously was people who wanted to improve their lot in life, decided to leave their home country- a totally non-trivial decision- and come here and use that motivation to advance themselves on their own cause. And what I was taught in school was this was the strength of America. The fact that motivated people came because we opened that door. We became a country of motivated people. We benefited from that and we fed off one another’s energy and created something exceptional. 

Basil Soper

So I am a more nuanced person than to say that I blanketly don’t agree that nothing good has ever come out of people coming here from other countries. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

And that’s Basil Soper, producer and researcher.

Basil Soper

It’s complicated. But I do think that there’s a reason that people want to be here. Who knows why they’re doing it? Are they doing it because they’re fed the idea of an American dream or is it like, because it’s, it’s really dire and, and it doesn’t matter how bad it is here. Right?

Mikaela Reid

Yeah, I’m just thinking like maybe America just has really good marketing 

Ty Montague

(Laughter)

MUSIC: “Vernouillet” by Blue Dot Sessions

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

America does have really good marketing, and that’s because it tells an irresistible story. From revolution to independence, from freedom to wild financial success, the American legend has been undeniably inspiring. And on this show, we explore how well organizations actually honor the narrative they’re crafting for themselves. 

So, the question is: do we still believe that story? And how much of the story has been conveniently left out in order to keep the brand strong?

Basil Soper

I think that we became a successful country and like the powerhouse of the economy globally, you know, through exploiting workers of all kinds. And that goes back to like children and women and people of color. So for me, when we talk about America being great – I don’t think it was ever really.

Mikaela Reid

Yeah. I mean I definitely feel, uh, I guess some elements of bitterness, one talking about America and what it was founded upon, like mass genocide of indigenous peoples and how it was built upon the backs of enslaved people. It’s just, you know, difficult to think of a country that is viewed as something that is a place for opportunity and the opportunities that they’re providing aren’t exactly accessible to all Americans.

Ty Montague

Yeah. I hear that a hundred percent, both of those perspectives. I guess it raises some questions for me, like, You know, from my perspective. And again, mine is a perspective of privilege. But there is some good to have set up in my view, a country that is supposed to be, and certainly has not been in every case, but he’s supposed to be a meritocracy. And we did open a door for people to come here and make their own way. Rise to the level of their own abilities. And so there’s gotta be some value to that.

 Basil Soper

I don’t think that’s the truth. I think even if people did come from worse off countries. They came here as immigrants and lived in tenements and just made the rich richer. That’s frustrating. You know, it’s not like they just came here and like were like middle-class, and, you know, as someone who grew up in poverty when we talk about things like people not being able to make a living wage, or like some people being shocked by how we’ve responded to COVID as a country. It doesn’t shock me as someone who couldn’t get healthcare growing up, as a trans person who can’t get trans health care, you know, in an accessible way. So for me, like I’ve seen this, this isn’t new.

MUSIC: “Borough” by Blue Dot Sessions

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

This conversation got me really curious. There are so many ways to interpret the American Dream – how many Americans still believe that the country has a higher purpose? Is the dream worth believing in? Or is it dying? 

To try and understand all of this, the team decided to fan out and speak with a wide variety of Americans, some of them in our own families. And we asked them for their definitions of the American dream.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

First up Basil’s brother in law, Jonathan Craig – a pool technician in Myrtle Beach South Carolina

Jonathan Craig

American dream. Hmm. So you come from a third world country, say you come from Afghanistan, you don’t speak to lick of English, you got your whole family here with you. You come here and pretty much you can be whatever, you know, do whatever you want. And the sky’s the limit here. You can, you know, get a good education. And we got a good America system, you know, as far as helping people get on their feet. You know, programs for schoolin’. You come here from anywhere and you can get the help you need. And shoot, just like the guys down the road. They come from Saudi Arabia,didn’t speak hardly any English– that’s three, four years ago. Now they got frickin’ four or five stores you know. That’s the American dream right there. You come here and then make a, make a livin’, raise a family. 

Yvonne Clarke

The American dream…You can achieve whatever you set out to do. Because I’m Jamaican, it meant that I could be here and opportunities would be available, not so much for myself, but for my children. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

That’s Yvonne Clarke, a former law secretary in New York. 

Yvonne Clarke

And I am so proud to be an American, and for them to be Americans, and for the avenues for growth it has afforded them.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

And one of Yvonne’s children is Mikaela’s Aunt Andrean Clarke, a public school teacher in North Carolina.

Andrean Clarke

The American Dream is the pursuit of happiness. And really that’s what so many Americans want to do. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

For so many, The American Dream is about the pursuit of happiness and opportunity. But as entrepreneur, cultural critic, Queens NY resident and first-generation Korean-American Jaeki Cho, points out – there’s a darkside to that pursuit.

Jaeki Cho

I feel like when people say American dream it’s often associated with abundance, right? Buying unnecessary shit in bulk,like yeah we have a hundred pairs of sneakers at home, like when we’re never going to run that much.Black Friday, holiday shopping… It’s a flawed narrative that’s like too often perpetrated by the imperialistic American agenda, this concept of consumerism is interweaved with the American dream, and it’s also connected with democracy.

There’s a thought of freedom of choice, but in reality, we really live in like a plutocracy, A government controlled by those with a lot of wealth, we’re just continuously part of this pipeline that essentially served those in upper economic realms with our labor, meager wages, which we use to buy more shit, watch more content to entertain us. And you know, I don’t really believe in this concept of an American dream per se. I believe in American survival. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

For some Americans the tough part of survival is economic, but for my next guest, survival means holding on to an entire way of life despite centuries of systemic oppression. 

Ty Montague

What do the words, the American dream mean to you?Tatewin Means

For me, those words is a trauma response. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

Tatewin Means is a Stamford-educated attorney who leads Thunder Valley, an indigenous not-for-profit organization that advocates for the liberation of Lakota people. She is the only person we spoke to who does not identify as an American.

Tatewin Means

I am from the Oglala, Lakota and Sisseton Wahpeton, Dakota people nations. And we are a part of the Oceti Sakowin larger nation and currently reside in what is now called South Dakota.

We’re the original caretakers and stewards of this land, long before Columbus lost his way and inflicted years of European genocide upon the people of this land. And so that is a trauma response for a lot of indigenous people and other communities of color because of the, the colonization and the genocide that was associated with the development of this land base into what is now called the United States of America. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

The conversation with Tatewin really brought home the terrible price that millions of people paid to create the country we live in today. How you feel about the American dream really depends on your vantage point and the version of American History you’ve been taught. 

So many people have sacrificed for this country against their will. While others, volunteer their lives to defend it.  

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

Next is Adrian Bonenberger, a writer, and veteran who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan.  

Adrian Bonenberger

One of the extraordinary things of America and the American dream, I think is that you can come to America from anywhere on earth. You can start a business, you can get a job somewhere and you will the author of your own destiny. And I think that far more than, um, you know, the ability to, to get rich or whatever some people say the American dream is. Is actually what makes America a place that people look to a place where they can live with dignity And you get your American citizenship. You’ve got that passport in your hand. Only a real jerk is going to say, you’re not a real American.

David Safavian

To me, the American dream means equal opportunity.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

David Safavian, the current general counsel for the American Conservative Union who has also held senior positions in the Bush Whitehouse. 

David Safavian

The ability for folks to follow their passion, to work hard, to achieve success, regardless of how you define success. Having a system that not only makes it possible, but encourages individual success, I think is what I would view the pathway to the American dream.

Penelope Soper

I’m Penelope Soper. 

Basil Soper

How old are you? 

Penelope Soper

Nine. 

Basil Soper

What would you say America’s purpose actually is?

 Penelope Soper

To come here. And be yourself.

Basil Soper

Do you think America is actually achieving this?

Penelope Soper

Uh, sometimes no, because they are treating people differently, like gay people bi people, um, and like Indian Americans, black people and other people like that. 

Basil Soper

Yeah. Why do you think that is? 

Penelope Soper

Because they think that they are, since there are different, that they could just treat them different. 

Basil Soper 

Really? How do you, how does that make you feel as an American?

Penelope Soper

That makes me feel sad. 

Basil Soper

Yeah. Is it because you love LGBT people and black people? 

Penelope Soper

I don’t care if they’re any condition. Yeah. 

Basil Soper 

As long as they’re nice people. 

Penelope Soper

If they’re rude I don’t like them.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

I’m with Penelope – I don’t like rude people either. Nearly all of the people that I spoke with identified as either democrat or republican. I’ll leave it to your imagination to decide who was who. But no matter their affiliation, there seemed to be a common understanding of what the American Dream was supposed to be. The difference of perspectives stemmed from whether we’re actually living up to it or not.

America’s BS score, a conversation with Andrew Yang, and an exploration into why we’re so polarized – after this.

MUSIC: “Calling BS Theme Interstitial 1” BY Migration

[SOT]  C-SPAN – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

[SOT]  CBS –  A Polarized America

[SOT]  CBS – Stephen Colbert

[SOT]  Fox News – Steve Hilton

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

Welcome back. On this unique episode of Calling Bullshit, we’ve applied the idea of an organization’s purpose to an entire nation- the united states of America. And, for the sake of this experiment,  we’ve identified the American Dream as that purpose. 

 Now, we continue these conversations by exploring America’s MISSION – in other words, the steps that we can take as citizens and governing bodies to actually put the purpose into practice. And debating how- or even if – Americans can achieve this dream amidst so much division. 

Here’s school teacher, Andrean Clarke

Andrean Clarke

Opportunity for all that’s America’s mission statement. That’s I think what the founding fathers wanted. And if they wanted it any other way, they would’ve said equality for white men who own land and freedom for specific people, but they had a bigger dream and their bigger dream was equality and opportunity and freedom for all.

Tatewin Means

These systems in this country was not built for people that look like me, sound like me, or grew up like me. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

Once again, the leader of Thunder Valley, Tatewin Means 

Tatewin Means

You hear that it’s a land of opportunity, but you have to really question for who? From my perspective as an indigenous woman, the mission statement of America is really exclusionary and genocidal, harmful.

Ty Montague

What could America be doing better to live its mission? In other words, if you were going to change some things about the country, what would you change?

Tatewin Means

I would change its mission. You have to, you have to start at those rotten roots. The seeds of this country are rotten because of these, you know, initial ideologies and beliefs about the people that did not look like white men that were already here and our view,  about what it meant to be, inhabitants and occupants of this land.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

Army veteran, Adrian Bonenberger 

Adrian Bonenberger

I would say our mission has been to expand that definition of citizen and citizenship as being something that’s dependent on the individual’s willingness to take part in community and not defined based on something that one of their ancestors did 800 years ago. It shouldn’t be defined based on religion. It shouldn’t be defined based on race. It shouldn’t be defined based on class. It was a revolutionary idea..

We, we had to stage a revolution over it. Uh, George Washington, when people said you ought to be king, he said, that’s not what I’m doing here. You know, I’m going to be president and you’re going to keep electing. So it’s a process that is both iterative. And also, it’s a process that requires people to buy into it actively.  And if you buy into it actively, then that’s your stake and you own a piece of it. And nobody can tell you different.

David Safavian

I think America’s mission statement is to be a beacon of freedom to the world.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

General Counsel for the American Conservative Union, David Safavian.

David Safavian

And I personally view, uh, the American model, the American experiment as something that I know so many millions of other people see and go, that’s where I want to be. That’s what I want for my family. So I think our mission is not just to continue the concept of American exceptionalism, but to make sure that we continue with American exceptionalism as a way to show the path to other governments, other countries, other cultures.

Ty Montague

How do you think about the polarization that’s going on in the country right now?

David Safavian

I see things coming out of the left and the right that just nauseated me to be honest. And there is very little communication. Open communication and honest communication between the sides. I think what we’ve come to is a point where we are both so convinced of our righteousness, that we have to condemn people that have opposing points of view. 

Ty Montague

There is some sense that there was kind of an original sin in America and that, that sin keeps coming back, you know, like once it’s in, you. It, it it’s really hard to, to get it out how do you think about that? 

David Safavian

I guess, you know, you really hit it when you called it original sin.  And this is the first time I really thought about it in this context or this framing. So I think that our past is something we all have to recognize. But to carry it forward and say, we are somehow less of an exceptional nation, and I truly believe America is exceptional, to carry it forward as a Scarlet A, Scarlet S, for slavery, tattooed on our collective forehead neither going to fix any problems, nor does it reflect reality that we are a generous country. We are by and large a kind and welcoming country. And we are one that shouldn’t be the beacon of world.

Andrean Clarke

So right now, I think we’re in a crisis and a moment of self-realization or self-actualization for America. What does America really stand for? Are we free to pursue our own happiness and not harm others? Are we still living up to the ideals of the constitution, which is freedom, opportunity and equality. And I would say not, I think we’re under threat right now, there’s a group of people who have been misled for 30 years about America just being for white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and they are afraid of the demographic shift that is going on. They’re really terrified that they won’t be able to pursue happiness again. And won’t be able to have their freedom or somehow their opportunities being curtailed because the demographics of America is shifting to be more brown. 

Jonathan Craig

Everything’s race-related now. I mean, which is, you know, it’s a serious thing

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

Pool technician, Jonathan Craig

Jonathan Craig

You know, police brutality, all that, you know, it’s crappy that probably does happen to black people, more African Americans, more than those most, but, I mean shoot. And then, then these to go with defund the police. Well, if you want to go that route, let’s just abolish the whole damn system and everything. No police, no, none of that and then we’ll see where we’re at in a year from now and see if you want to go bring the police back. But yeah, we definitely gotten away from our core principles, I believe. I mean, just as far as like say, you know, everybody created equal. I mean, I mean, even though, you know, women, I mean, they still get, you know, it’s not bad as I’m sure it was, you know, 30, 40 years ago. But I mean that, that could get a little better too, but, I mean, it’s, that’s a damn mess. 

Adrian Bonenberger

I regret to say that at the current moment, uh, I think the, uh, the experiment is, is in danger. It’s in danger mostly because of complacency. We’ve become victims of our own success and our own privilege and I think this is this more than anything is going to ruin us.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

Entrepreneur, Jaeki Cho 

Jaeki Cho

So what would I change about America? Like, Stop pushing American military might to control resources and have, you know, young people die for old people’s selfish agendas. You know, apologize to the indigenous people and respect, nature, all of that shit, you know, like I would change all of that. But I think the root of it all really comes from being willing to try to learn more about people that might not look like you. 

And I think that America is a social experiment that can progress towards that cause like how many societies do you know where an Asian kid growing up on hip hop in Queens could naturally flow and have friends from all parts of the world? Eat each other’s food, make love with each other and, you know, eventually have kids and build families and, basically create a whole new paradigm of what a community could look like?

MUSIC: “Kid Kodi” by Blue Dot Sessions

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

As I reflect on what I’ve learned in these conversations it occurs to me that over the past several decades we have become two nations: one nation, actively pushing for us to remember and reconcile — to acknowledge some of the flaws and mistakes in our history and to address them.  And a second nation that fears the future and wants things to return to the “way it always was” — to return to a time of forgetting. 

Maybe the way forward here is to remember something else: America has never feared the future and never feared change.  In fact the founders knew we would need to change and adapt to new and unforeseen circumstances.  That’s what the constitution and amendments are for. As long as we respect one another, actively participate, and have the ability to agree to disagree civilly and respectfully, then America will find its way.

Andrean Clarke, says it best. 

Andrean Clarke

America is for all people, if you believe in those ideals of freedom for all, opportunities for all, and harm, none. And that is possible. And I’m extremely patriotic. I say the pledge of allegiance at schools and some of my students wonder why when opportunities aren’t there for them and I  say you’ve got to grab the bull by the horn and wrestle with it and make it work for you if you believe in those ideals of freedom for all. Be an American and be a good citizen, which means to participate and not let a certain segment of society take it from you or destroy it because they don’t want to share in the dream of pursuit of happiness or equality. And so governments must work for the greater good for the greatest many, for the greatest pursuit.

MUSIC: BULLSHIT SCORE THEME

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

Folks, it is time to make the call: Is the American dream still real? Is America a place where all people are created equal? A place that welcomes people from all walks of life with open arms and opens the door to whatever future they want to create? Or has America itself become a Bullshitter? 

Based on what I have heard today, I think we have to call BS. 

But remember: bullshit is a treatable disease — so after the diagnosis, we always discuss the cure. America is a place that reinvents itself, and the framers were wise enough to leave us with the tools we need to drive that re-invention. And I think it’s worth remembering, we’ve come back from worse places before this. 

After the break we’ll hear some concrete solutions from a special guest, Andrew Yang. Stick with us. 

INTERSTITIAL MUSIC AD BREAK INTERSTITIAL MUSIC

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

Welcome back. We’ve decided there is a gap between the dream America is selling and the actions that America is taking — so we’re calling BS. But on this show, we believe BS is a treatable condition. So next, we’re going to talk about some potential cures with someone who has first-hand experience participating in our political system: Andrew Yang. You might know him as the person who introduced the country to Universal Basic Income back in the last presidential Democratic primary. Running for office, gave him a critical vantage point to see what’s wrong with a major part of this system, and he has some fascinating ideas to fix it. 

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, I think you’ll find his perspective as interesting as I did. 

Ty Montague

Hey Andrew. Welcome to  calling bullshit. And thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it.

Andrew Yang

No problem, my friend, happy to be here.

Ty Montague

So you recently made two exciting announcements, a new book forward, and a new political party, the forward party. And we’re going to get into those in just a second. But before we get into that, I want to continue down the path that I’ve been on for this episode, which is to try to figure out whether America is living up to its mission at the most. So I’ve asked a handful of Americans to answer three questions. And I want to start the interview by asking you the same questions. The first one is what do the words, the American dream mean to you?

Andrew Yang

I’m the child of immigrants myself. So the American dream is that you can come here and build a life and your children will have opportunities greater than the opportunities that you’ve had, that each generation is going to do better than the one before.

Ty Montague

Second question. What would you say America’s mission statement or purpose statement actually is?

Andrew Yang

The first things that came to mind for me are life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I mean, I think that’s in the charter.

Ty Montague

Yeah, no, I, I, I think that’s right. And then the third question is, how are we doing at living up to that mission right now?

Andrew Yang

I believe we are doing very, very poorly. If you stack up the United States relative to other countries, we are approximately 28th across measurements of education, mortality, equity, freedom of expression, life expectancy with a down arrow, like we’re to our 28th and declining. And that I believe is driving a lot of the anger and frustration – where our quality of life is sinking into the mud and then if you look up and say, okay, well what’s happening in terms of measures to correct this? Uh, it’s really very little.

Ty Montague

Yeah the statistics are shocking, so yeah, let’s, let’s get into the book forward, which among other things, uh, really lays out the rationale for a third political party. What, what inspired you to write this book?

Andrew Yang

I ran for president and after I came off the trail, I tried to figure out what the heck I had been through and what I’d learned. So I wrote down not just my own experiences, but also tried to pin down why we feel so stuck and why polarization is getting worse and why it doesn’t seem like big solutions are imminent. And I concluded that our system is working exactly as it’s designed. It’s just not designed to succeed.

Ty Montague

Right.

Andrew Yang

It’s in many ways it’s designed for polarization and stasis and increasing frustration, which at a national scale will result eventually in unrest and political violence, which we’re already seeing. So in that environment, I thought, well, someone needs to do something to try and moderate the polarization and change the incentives. And I found a genuine solution where Alaska adopted open primaries and ranked choice voting last year, which among other things freed up Senator Lisa Murkowski to be the only Republican Senator to impeach Donald Trump. So realizing that there’s actually a structural fix to the incentives and our increasing polarization, I then thought, well, we should definitely do that. And if you’re going to support ballot initiatives in red and blue states around the country, it certainly is in my mind, almost impossible to do so as a member of one party or another, because then obviously if you showed up to a state where it was governed by the other party, they’d be like, you know, you’re here for.

Ty Montague

They’re playing into their hands in a way. So, I wanna talk, I wanna, you know, for the listeners sort of ease into it a little bit and say, uh, You know, there were some stunning statistics about economic inequality, you know, sort of the roots of this polarization in the book. And I wondered if you could talk a little bit more about those. One of the things you said for instance is we’re in the midst of the most extreme winner-take-all economy in the history of the world, the bottom 80% of Americans own only 8% of the stock market. And the bottom 48% owned zero. What are some other data points that you would consider to be the sources of this polarization?

Andrew Yang

Well, one thing I’ve seen very consistently is that a mindset of scarcity ends up impeding your executive functioning, uh, by a measurable degree. One study had it at 13 IQ points. So that’s one standard deviation. Um, the simplest way to think about it is that if I put you in a situation where you’re not sure how you’re going to pay next month’s rent, uh, it does it, doesn’t just stress you out, it consumes your bandwidth to a point where you’re more susceptible to bad ideas. You’re more susceptible to negative impulses. And so we’re doing that to a bulk of the American population, at this point. I had dinner with a friend yesterday who said that, what he figured it out was that he used to think about problems among the bottom 20% of Americans. And now he’s realized that he had it in reverse. It’s actually the bottom 80% of Americans, uh, that, that are, uh, in tough straits. And there, there is a pattern where if you eliminate a middle-class of a country, it becomes much more susceptible to, for example, authoritarian impulses. Uh, so this has been happening by the numbers for two to three generations in the United States.

Ty Montague

Right. And, and that also, as, as you’ve just said, it has this huge blast radius on our culture, you know, unbelievable levels of anxiety and depression, an epidemic of, of suicide and drug overdoses out there in the world. So this sense of slipping behind that to your friend’s point, 80% of Americans at some level are experiencing, has led us to this sense of kind of impending doom, which is, is creating this polarization. You talk about the concept of political stress as well and this was an eye opener for me compared, you reference a study that compares the level of animosity between the left and the right just before the civil war and today. And I found that to be pretty disturbing.

Andrew Yang

We should be disturbed and, Ty, one of the messages I’m trying to convey to people is that everything is on the table and America. And by that, I generally mean the bad stuff. Like whatever kind of dark dystopian scenario you can conjure it’s on the table. And this political stress index as measured by a scholar named Peter Turchin and his colleague, he goes through various variables, mapping out the levels of political stress in different historical time periods. And we are apparently right now at civil war levels of political stress by his measurements, which you can probably see and feel. I mean, right now, 42% of partisans regard their political opponents as evil or they’re mortal enemies and that can lead to, again, unimaginable scenarios becoming real. And we saw an example of this on January 6th.

Ty Montague

Right, exactly. And you point out this is particularly dangerous simply because so many people in America are armed, like to the teeth. 

Andrew Yang

300 million firearms, most heavily armed society in the history of the world.  

Ty Montague

Lest listeners think that this is all doom and gloom or that the book was all about doom and gloom. That is far from the case. It bristles with new ideas to attack these problems too many actually to go into today. But I want to get to the main set of ideas that you have for solving this. You’re proposing a new political party, the Forward party. What are you trying to accomplish?

Andrew Yang

The Forward Party is a popular movement that consists of registered Democrats, Independents and registered Republicans who want our system to work better. And what we’re trying to do is improve the incentives and enable a genuinely resilient democracy moving forward. So I just want to go back to first principles for a second. If you look at the U.S. constitution, there is nothing about a political party anywhere. It turns out the founding fathers were quite anti-partisan. John Adams said the biggest nightmare would be if you had two parties just clashing all the time. I know it’s pretty funny. And it turns out that if you were trying to avoid authoritarianism, duopoly is one of the worst types of structures you could erect because then you have a one party, let’s say it succumbs to bad leadership and then everyone’s political incentives sort of follow that leader and they can cast the other one side as that as the the worst of two evils, and then you have virtually no institutional safeguards. Um, if you look around the world, the UK has five parties. Germany has seven parties. Sweden has eight parties. Netherlands has 18 parties. And so in that system, if you have a party to come to bad leadership, then it’s a problem, but it’s not an existential threat is not authoritarian. It’s just like, oh, that party has a real you know, wacko at the helm. Like let’s just wait for them to figure that out. But a duopoly is actually uniquely vulnerable. It’s very, very poorly designed. And so what the forward party is trying to do is one reduce polarization by installing, uh, mechanisms of open primaries, rank choice voting, and two give rise to a genuinely multipolar system. We’re not about “us the third party”. I hope there are five or seven or nine parties, because that would just be a much more resilient dynamic system that would be resistant to authoritarianism to a much higher degree.

Ty Montague

Right. Like a lot of regular Americans, I don’t really understand how the party system works. Or why it is the way it is today. People have tried to start new parties in the past. Why has that not worked to date and why will this one work?

Andrew Yang

Oh, thank you, Ty. This is a very good question.So our current version of this duopoly has been up and running for, let’s call it 150 years, give or take. And so the political parties just kind of came up and then made their own rules and then divvied it up where like, okay, we’re going to have just you and us. And then if there is another party that emerges, the duopoly makes it very, very difficult. And part of it is the voting system, but it’s also ballot access. It’s access to resources. So the single biggest change really needs to be open primaries and rank choice voting. 

Because in a closed party primary system, you really have next to no chance. I can use New York City as an example. So there’s a Democratic Party primary and it’s closed. And Democrats outnumber Republicans in this environment, something like five to one. So the democratic primary is where all the real action is, or the decision-making is. And that’s the norm. So it does turn out that there are, there’s an independent running for mayor, there is a libertarian running for mayor probably like all these people, but their chances are next to nothing. So if you had open primaries and rank choice voting then, people can make their own case to everybody and then even if you’d still have Democrats win because of the numbers, they would be much more likely to integrate aspects of other people’s platform. You’d have different candidates emerge. And some of them would actually, in my opinion, not just influence policy, but some of them might pull upsets and win. So a lot of it’s a mechanics problem. Where if in the absence of open primaries and rank choice voting, it will be very, very difficult for any third party to emerge. 

And if you look at the numbers right now, 62% of Americans want a third party, 60% think both sides are out of touch. Independents outnumber Democrats or Republicans by almost two to one. So if you look at those numbers, there is a massive void to be filled. A massive vacuum. But the reason why the vacuum is so big is because the two parties that made it almost impossible for a third party to meaningfully emerge. You know it’s sort of circular. So you have to have a mechanism switch in the primary system.

Ty Montague

Understood. And, you know, ranked choice voting and open primaries. As I understand it are kind of two great tastes that go great together. Um, could you unpack those a little bit for listeners? Just explain how those two things work.

Andrew Yang

Right now Congress has a national approval rating of 28%. But the re-election rate for individual members is 92%. You’re almost assured of getting your job back if you want your job back, which most of them do.

Ty Montague

I mean, that’s, that’s just crazy that that’s unbelievable

Andrew Yang

Uh, yeah. So then you look at the structures and say, how is this possible? And it turns out that 83% of the seats are safely democratic or safely Republican. If you get to the general you win. And so the entire name of the game for these 83% of representatives is this to avoid getting primaried. So, how do you avoid getting primaried? You have to remain ideologically pure. You can’t compromise with the other side. If you do reach across the aisle and compromise, you’re more likely to get a challenger. So these incentives then push people into their corners and say “working together is wrong and evil”. So that’s the system in part, because if I am a member of Congress, I’m not taking my case to the general public, I’m taking my case to the 10 or 20%, most extreme voters in my district who are going to vote in the primary either on the Republican side or the Democratic side. So the first step is to say, look, how about we have open primaries where anyone can vote when you’re up for reelection. And that way immediately, instead of just having to appeal. 17%, most extreme voters. You have to appeal to the general public, which would be an enormous moderating influence. Now the mechanics of it are such that if you had open primaries without ranked choice voting, then a scenario could occur where you have two Republicans and one Democrat or two Democrats and one Republican and you kind of cannibalize each other’s votes. And that’s the spoiler effect that everyone gets upset about. So if you have rank choice voting, then it eliminates the spoiler effect. You can vote for multiple candidates. If your top choice doesn’t go through, then your vote flows through to the second person until someone gets a majority. So if, like you said, there are two tastes that taste great together where if you have open primaries and ranked choice voting, they’re actually both kind of moderating impulses because to succeed in a ranked choice voting field, you have to get a majority of people to at least be okay with you and that tends to,reward the coalition builders and punish the extremes.

Ty Montague

Yeah, incredibly important. So one of the other planks, I guess, of this, of this party is something that you term human-centered capitalism. That’s a, that’s a topic that is near and dear to my heart. You know, we’re not trying to throw capitalism out. We’re just trying to evolve it. Can you talk about you know, the way that you think about that?

Andrew Yang

Right now you have these economic indicators that are GDP and stock market prices and they’re going up and up, even as more people are sinking into the dirt. So what I believe we should do is take our human wellbeing and look at it the same way we do stock market prices and say, okay, how are the kids doing? You know, how are people. And how our community is doing. And then if you saw that you would see we’re doing very poorly and then you’d look up to our leaders and say, ‘hey, still bad this year, like maybe you should focus on’, on how we’re doing as opposed to, you know, scoring political points. And so as someone who’s running organizations, if you have the wrong measurements, you’ll have a very specific direction.

Ty Montague

Right. And, and so that is, that leads to that, that question. You’ve long maintained that GDP is absolutely the wrong thing to be measuring. What should we be measuring?

Andrew Yang

We should be measuring our health, our mental health, our kids’ ability to learn our environmental quality, uh, our affordability and access to healthcare and education. And when I went around the country and I asked people about how they’re feeling and doing, I mean, it’s, uh, it’s pretty tough for a lot of folks. Anxiety, depression, deaths of despair, or substance abuse. I mean, that, like, those are the things they’re seeing more and more.

Ty Montague

Right. One of the other ideas that jumped out to me beyond universal basic income, which obviously, you know, you, you got this into the national conversation and it does appear to be slowly gaining traction, particularly during the pandemic, for instance. But you, you also bring in the idea of grace and tolerance. One of the things that you say on the, on the four reporting website is most parties need an enemy. Our enemy is those who would cast our fellow Americans as enemies and as an existential threat. And I just wondered if you could talk more about that, because that, that seems like the hardest thing to do in a way it’s the softest language, grace and tolerance, but it’s, it’s the thing that seems to be most important is to just, you know, stop demonizing each other.

Andrew Yang

Grace and tolerance to me is what’s missing in the American political life in part because our incentives are all around, getting people upset and angry, where if I want to raise money for a cause, I’ll talk about, Hey, these people are trying to take away this. Like these people are, uh, wrong, immoral, and we need money to fight them and that’s typically more successful than. ‘look they’re human beings like us.’ They’re Americans, you know, we, we disagree, but, uh, let, let’s try and find common ground. But you need a positive unifying voice and force in American politics to try and tamp down the polarization, this just getting worse and worse and part again, because all the incentives are driving us into corners where we’ll attack the other side.

Ty Montague

Yeah. On this topic of grace and tolerance, some would say that, you know, in quotes the other side, no matter which side we’re talking about is so far gone, that they’re irredeemable. What do you say to folks who feel that way?

Andrew Yang

I think if you feel that way, you really need to get out and talk to folks who might represent the tribal group you were thinking of. 75 million people voted for Donald Trump, like trying to categorize 75 million in one ideological bucket or, or like having certain attitudes. I think it is impossible, really, you know, and like I have family members who voted for Trump. And so you could take any group of people. And as long as you start humanizing them, you realize that we’re being played and said against each other. One of the big lessons I learned that I tried to present in my book. Is that all politics is now tribal. You think it’s about policy? It’s not, the correlation between what someone does politically or the way they identify and what they think about policy is actually very low it’s 0.25, according to one study. So in that context, you think, okay it turns out we agree on let’s call it lower drug prices, or maybe even basic income now. So what is it we’re disagreeing about? And we’re, we’re disagreeing because we’ve been tribalized and trained to feel like the other tribe has lost it. Now, are there dark and unsavory elements and extremes in any large group? Yes. Uh, but you don’t want to characterize like a massive group or in this case, literally tens of millions of people or half the country, in a way that really erases their humanity and that’s what I think we’re in danger of doing.

Ty Montague

Yeah, some would argue that grace and tolerance have always been scarce in America, basically, depending on who you are. And you opened by talking about the fact that you’re a child of immigrants. Immigrants, people of color, indigenous people, haven’t experienced a lot of grace and tolerance from the beginning. What would you say to them?

Andrew Yang

Oh, what I would say is that this country has a promise and this country has not lived up to its promise, in many, many historical circumstances. And there is an unfairness to ask someone who has been put in that position to embrace grace and tolerance, if it has not been shown to you. But that is our better bet really in my view and because it’s more difficult or even unfair does not make it any less necessary or powerful. It actually makes it more powerful, in my opinion.

Ty Montague

Yeah, and the alternative is unthinkable. So,

Andrew Yang

The alternative is going to lead us to ruin and I don’t believe that’s going to lead us where we want to go.

Ty Montague

I mean, that, that leads me to another question I had, which is, you know, you launched on October 4th, so, it’s still pretty recent, but how do you feel about the reaction? so far.

Andrew Yang

The reaction has been tremendous. And one of the things I’m most encouraged by is that groups of independent voters and third parties have actually already reached out to the Forward party to say, Hey, let’s make common cause and work together. Because they see that this is something that everyone who wants to modernize the duopoly you should be behind. I think if you’re a, you know, like a partisan, you should be behind this too, because you’re like, look like the system is just really, really vulnerable like this is not very smart. 

Ty Montague

Right. So in terms of you and, and your plans, you know, you’ve, you’ve run per president, you’ve run for the, the, mayor of New York. Are you going to run again in the future? Do you, or do you feel like you, your job is to concentrate on coalition building and get this party off the ground?

Andrew Yang

I’m determined to try to lighten up this polarization that’s really threatening to destroy us. And so that means these ballot initiatives, elevating like-minded candidates, I’ll be endorsing candidates and campaigning for them. So that’s where my attention is is this democracy reform package, this structural incentive fix. It’s going to keep me very busy,for the time being. but I’m fired up about it. I don’t know what my future holds in terms of my running for office as a candidate, genuinely, you know, like I’m not playing coy. Like I really don’t know what that looks like.

GUEST BS RATING THEME MUSIC

Ty Montague

Awesome. Andrew, last, last question. I asked this of every guest on the show, because our thesis is that we’re, we’re, we’re trying to point out companies or organizations or countries in this case where there may be the delta between the mission and the, you know, the current state of affairs and we’ve created a scale, we call it the bullshit scale.

So zero is the best score. Zero bullshit. There is no delta between word indeed. And 100 is.

Andrew Yang

It’s a hundred percent bullshit.

Ty Montague

Total, total BS. So in on that scale, if, if our mission is life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, how are we doing right now?

Andrew Yang

Wow. It’s tough to throw a number on this. What I said in my book and what I feel and believe is that right now, we’re not going to come close to fulfilling the promise of America because our system is not set for success. So if you were to say to me, Hey, like, how are we doing on the BS meter? Unfortunately, the BS meter is going off when it comes to United States and its ability to fulfill its promise is one reason why we’re all feeling like we’re in deep trouble. I mean like the promises not being fulfilled by a long shot. And so that’s what we have to change and it’s going to require various significant systemic change like that. This is not like an incremental sit type situation. You know what I mean? We can all feel that there’s like the energy in the anger is building up. It’s, it’s hitting in very, very nasty directions. And so we need to try and get that BS meter closer to zero as quickly as possible. But right now it’s, it’s running into the danger zone.

Ty Montague

Yeah, I would have to agree, unfortunately, but, the future’s a big place and you’re going to play a big part in it. So I want to thank you for being here today, Andrew. It’s been great talking with you and I really wish you the best for the Forward party.

Andrew Yang

Thank you, Ty. Really grateful. And again, everyone listening to this at this point, everything is on the table. So we might as well make good stuff on the table as well as bad stuff. So let’s, let’s get some more good stuff on the table.

Ty Montague

Amen brother. 

MUSIC: “In Passage”  by Blue Dot Sessions

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

One of the emerging themes of this season is purpose-led organizations that have lost their way for one reason or another. America is one of them. To find our way back we have to rejuvenate a shared purpose. Because a shared purpose is the glue that holds people together. It’s true for companies. And it’s true for countries too. Making sure that you have a great purpose and that you are living that purpose is a way to make sure that the glue remains strong – and it makes organizations of all sizes resilient over the long haul.


I’d like to end the show by giving America an official bullshit score. Based on what I have heard today, I’m giving America a 62. That’s pretty high and I’m sure we all want to see it come down. 

To weigh in with your own score, or to leave us an audio message with your take on this episode that could be played in our season wrap up, visit our website, callingbullshitpodcast.com. We’ll also track America’s behavior over time to see if we can bring that score down and you’ll also be able to see where America ranks on BS compared to the other companies and organizations we feature on this show.

And if you’re running a purpose-led organization, or you are thinking of beginning the journey of transformation to become one, here are three things you should take away from this episode: 

1) A powerful and unique purpose can give you a major advantage over your competitors by helping you to attract more talented and more motivated people. There is no better example of that than America. Our purpose, when it was first expressed over 200 years ago, attracted so much motivated talent so quickly that we quickly moved to a leadership position in the world. 

2) A great purpose invites people to not only to join but also to participate. A smart question to ask yourself is “How can people actively participate in helping us achieve our purpose?” In America’s case, Andrew Yang talked about some great ideas today for making our system easier to participate in – open primaries and rank-choice voting. 

And 3) A great purpose is only as good as the actions you take to make it real. In America’s case, no matter how many times we say we are the land of opportunity, and that all of us are created equal, if we don’t make those things true for more people through action, they will lose faith. A lot of us already have. Your purpose will undoubtedly be different than America’s. As will the actions you’ll need to take to make it real. Just remember: doing is believing.

MUSIC: “Kid Kodi” by Blue Dot Sessions

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

I’d like to thank everyone who joined us today: Adrian Bonenberger, Andrean Clarke, Yvonne Clarke, Jonathan Craig, Jaeki Cho, Tatewin Means, Mikaela Reid, David Safavian, Basil Soper, Penelope Soper and Andrew Yang. 

Find out more about our guests including their socials on our website: callingbullshitpodcast.com. And check out Andrew’s latest Book, Forward: Notes on the Future of our Democracy. If you have ideas for companies or organizations we should consider for future episodes, you can submit them on the site too. 

And if we made you feel like pledging allegiance today, subscribe to the Calling Bullshit podcast at iHeart Radio app, Apple Podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Thanks to our production team: Hannah Beal, Amanda Ginzburg, Andy Kim, DS Moss, Haley Paskalidies, Mikaela Reid, Parker Silzer, Basil Soper, and Mijon Zulu. Calling Bullshit was created by co:collective and is hosted by me, Ty Montague. Thanks for listening.

Agree or disagree with our Bullshit Score? Give us your take.

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