Andrew Yang, as of this week the front-runner for mayor of New York City, did nothing unethical.
Well, allow me to modify that. Allowing yourself to be placed at the mercy of a stranger while being videoed is political incompetence. And his fake laugh was too convincing.
The video above, since the news media no longer allows the public to hear or read essential aspects of such stories because journalists regard themselves as public censors, is confusing, so here is what transpired.
The whole, unblurred, unbleeped video is on TikTok, and WordPress won’t let me embed TikTok. Someone the candidate to let him take a phone video as another stranger, a smiling and giddy black man, asks Yang whether a man, “while he’s fucking bitches, can he keep his Timbs on?.” — a reference to Timberland boots. Yang’s answer, under the circumstances, is pretty deft: “I think it’s purely up to your partner.”
Then the classy New Yorker asks Yang whether he “choke[s] bitches,” and Yang laughs—convincingly, I must say— and leaves.
Yang’s polite engagement with the man after he used the word “bitches” and his apparently hardy laughter after the “choke bitches” line made him an inviting target of feminists and his rivals.
“We have seen four years of a president who joked about sexually assaulting women and still got elected,” said mayoral candidate Maya Wiley during her Zoom press conference quickly set up with victims of male sexual violence so she could take advantage of Yang’s gaffe. “We should be called to lead for a moral leadership that says exactly how we have to stand up for each other. And that means every last one of us has to stand up for women and girls, because we count.” “He isn’t winning the hearts and minds of women here in New York City by laughing at misogynistic jokes,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW New York. “And I hope that today is a wake-up call for him and a wake-up call for the voters of New York City.” Rita Pasarell, a co-founder of the New York Sexual Harassment Working Group, said, “We’ve really all been in the room when someone makes a joke out of women’s dignity and safety and in those moments, we decide who we are,” she said. “Today we saw again who Yang is, and that is somebody who chose the comfort of the moment ahead of women’s lives. He chose seeming cool ahead of women’s safety, and women cannot afford another leader who is afraid to stand up for women’s safety in New York.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s mayoral campaign released a statement earlier in the day, signed by a quintet of Democratic female state lawmakers, calling Yang’s behavior in the video “disqualifying for someone who is seeking to be mayor of New York.” “Language like this perpetuates real violence against women,” said the statement, endorsed by state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly members Linda Rosenthal, Nily Rozic, Carmen De La Rosa and Catalina Cruz.
Yang’s explanation, useless to him as it probably is, was nonetheless honest and true as well as exactly what I assumed when I watched the uncensored video. “I think most New Yorkers know that I try to be friendly to people, and in this case someone wanted a video and I thought I’d be friendly,” Yang told reporters yesterday. “But then he said something that was plainly inappropriate that I didn’t find funny at all and so I walked away and ended the interaction as quickly as possible. You know, obviously I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
Nobody is mentioning it , but the uncivil, misogynist creep who put Yang in this bind was an African-American, so any negative, rude or dismissive response by Yang would have been perceived in racial terms by many, and he would have been tarred as a “racist.” Yang took Elwood P. Dowd’s advice from “Harvey”: when in doubt, be nice. Expressing disdain and lecturing the man would have done nothing to change his attitudes, and it would have breached the Categorical Imperative, exploiting a human being for personal gain.
As for the laugh, that’s social balm in awkward encounters. The duty to confront, which Ethics Alarms discusses often, becomes relevant when unethical conduct is involved, not mere words. If a woman had been present, Yang would have had an obligation to confront the man over her disrespect and denigration of her. His mistake, and it is an understandable one, is forgetting that the video would be posted and become public, meaning that the creep’s attitude and misogyny would be inflicted on women, and he had been made an unwitting assessory.
I was once in a resort limo being driven to the airport with a colleague. The driver was doing us a big favor, because, well, it’s a long story, but he was getting us to a flight we were in danger of missing. When h began talking like Joseph Goebbels, and I’m not exaggerating, I was in the front seat, and trapped with this Nazi for almost 45 minutes. I recall laughing, maybe not as hardily as Yang, but convincingly enough, at some of his racist jokes, while my colleague in the back seat behind him looked like the audience after the opening number in “Springtime for Hitler.” (After I got home, I complained to the resort.) “Wow, that was impressive,” my friend said. “My other option was opening the door and diving onto the street,” I said. In the situation we were in, this idiots’ racial biases didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to reform him, but I did have to make that flight.
I often have shuddered, however, at the thought of a hidden limo-cam filming me appearing to be pals with David Duke. The Golden Rule applies. I have been in Yang’s position, but I was lucky. The difference between us is moral luck. I empathize, sympathize, and pronounce him blameless—except that he was doomed the second he agreed to the video.
“Ethics is what you do when you think nobody’s looking” is an excellent concept, but we also have to be generous and compassionate when interactions among two people suddenly are shared with the world, thanks to our destructive technologies. Every one of us has had moments when we would look and sound terrible if we had been videoed and the result shared with the world, and every one of us will have more.
I guess I also have to mention:
- I can’t deny the schadenfreude seeing a Democrat caught in this kind of “gotcha!” after all the posturing and fury over Donald Trump’s leaked banter with Billy Bush.
- Ironies abound here. The Asian-American candidate for NYC mayor is being unfairly attacked as his party is virtue-signaling about a supposed “wave” of hate against Asian-Americans. The rule, as I interpret it, is that any negative conduct toward an Asian-American by another individual of a different race is presumptive motivate by racist hate, unless you are running for mayor of New York City.
- Nah, the attitude of the “jokester” with Yang on the video isn’t illustrative of an ugly current in the African-American culture that the black community’s leadership pretends doesn’t exist! What a racist thing to even suggest!
- It’s amazing, isn’t it, that the same party loyalists and feminists who can so passionately condemn male sexism and misogyny somehow didn’t think Joe Biden’s serial sexual assault and harassment was “disqualifying,” or even worth mentioning?