Thoughts From the Progress Iowa Corn Feed

On Sunday, my mom and I attended the fifth annual Progress Iowa Corn Feed, which included speeches from ten of the twenty-something Democratic presidential candidates as well as booths and activities representing all of the Democratic candidates and numerous progressive organizations.

The Cory Booker booth had bubbles and hula hoops.

The Marianne Williamson booth invited us to dip our thumbs into glitter paint and press them against a piece of paper while making a wish for our country.

The Andrew Yang booth was giving away free copies of Yang’s book The War on Normal People (which I originally read at the library; it’s a great book with an unfortunate title).

The Joe Biden booth asked us if we had any questions about Joe Biden, which was probably the one question that didn’t need to be asked.

Biden was not at the event, and neither were many of the so-called “frontrunners;” we heard speeches from John Delaney, Amy Klobuchar, Marianne Williamson, Michael Bennet, Tim Ryan, Kirsten Gillibrand, Seth Moulton (whose candidacy is so new that Google didn’t automatically spell his name for me), Julián Castro, Pete Buttigieg, and John Hickenlooper.

Jay Inslee was supposed to be there, but his flight got delayed. Bill DeBlasio was also supposed to be there but returned to NYC to do whatever a mayor does during a city blackout; he was represented by a giant truck covered with DeBlasio video ads that kept circling the block.

If it sounds like I’m going to start getting snarky, well… I don’t want to punch down, and it really does feel like punching down when you’re looking at the candidate who gave his speech after Buttigieg received a standing ovation, mumbling the words “when I become president” while staring at a stack of index cards and trying not to watch all the Buttigieg fans pack up their lawn chairs.*

Like, I’d say at least three of today’s candidates had reached the giving-up stage, and we had to watch them push through their speeches anyway. So I don’t want to critique the speeches, and I feel a little bad for mentally awarding fewer points to the candidates who read off note cards or printer paper, because do presidents really need to be good at public speaking to be a good president? Maybe not? (Plus they all get teleprompters—sorry, TelePrompTers—once they take office.)

The three candidates who came off the strongest were Buttigieg, Castro (who ended his speech with a crowd-raising story about how he hoped to look President Trump in the eye and say “adiós”) and Williamson—who not only took the stage looking like a literal rock star but also gave the most passionate and linguistically complex oration of the afternoon.**

Look, I am fairly sure we are not going to have a President Williamson in 2020. But I really want to visit the parallel universe where she wins the election—because while I got the feeling like the majority of the candidates on stage would provide solid and qualified leadership, I also suspect that they’ll all lead the country towards the same basic outcome. Healthcare for everyone (assuming they can get it through Congress), and some attempts at tackling climate change and economic equality.***

Williamson, with her slogan “overcome hate with love” and her goal to “wage peace” on the world, will take us somewhere different (even though it may include some of the same elements, like universal healthcare).

Unfortunately, the world is not a video game where you can, like, play the Williamson path and then go play the Buttigieg path. You have to go to Corn Feeds and caucuses and vote in primaries and make your decision and then hope you made the best choice for the whole country, which, I mean, we usually don’t think about it that way, right? We tend to think about what’s best for ourselves; which candidate is most likely to get us what we want.

But even though the Trump tax cuts were great for me, for example, I’m probably going to end up voting for someone who plans on repealing them. (I’m not sure which candidates want to repeal the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act yet, although I remember seeing some posters on some of the booths suggesting that it was part of some candidates’ platforms.)

Anyway, those are my thoughts from the Progress Iowa Corn Feed.

Also—and this goes without saying, but I haven’t said it yet—the event was packed with vendors selling food made from corn. 🌽🌽🌽❤️

*Not that I’m going to identify who this was, but please note that I didn’t list the candidates in alphabetical order.

**If your only exposure to Williamson was the first round of debates, I don’t blame you for thinking she was out of her league—because that’s what I thought too. Then I went and watched some of her other speeches and interviews. She built her career as a motivational speaker, and she can lay out a multi-clause sentence packed with five-syllable words and make it sound like a hymn you’d want to sing along to.

***I heard exactly two plans regarding climate change—Castro said the first thing he’d do as president would be to re-join the Paris Accord, and Ryan said he wanted to stop climate change with regenerative agriculture—and no actual plans on economic equality beyond “Teachers need to be paid more! Firefighters need to be paid more!” It made me wish Andrew Yang were there, so he could get another shot at explaining how a value-added tax worked.

Meeting Andrew Yang in Cedar Rapids and Learning How He Plans to Become President

I just got back from the Andrew Yang meetup in Cedar Rapids — it was held at Groundswell Café, which is one of those community spaces that lets you “pay it forward” and buy another person’s meal for them (and if you’re in a situation where you need food, you can come in and enjoy one of the paid-forward meals), so already it was like we were on message.

Them that hath shall give, for a change.*

The Food Dividend.

Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend, which is rapidly gaining traction on various parts of the internet, is a universal basic income plan of $1,000/month for every American over the age of 18. (No, it shouldn’t lead to mass inflation, just like Seattle’s $15 minimum wage didn’t lead to mass inflation. The thing that drove gentrification and housing cost inflation in Seattle was “a growing number of people that had a lot of money,” not “a lot of people that suddenly had a little more money.”)

This is not Yang’s only policy plan, and we spent the morning discussing everything from Medicare for All to mitigating the effects of climate change to stopping the endless wars — but the truth, as it seems to be at the moment, is that we need to solve our country’s economic problems before we can deal with larger-scale issues.

As Andrew Yang explained (paraphrased):

Trump became president because his campaign correctly identified many of the biggest issues facing the United States: increased automation, job loss, economic insecurity. However, his presidency has done nothing to provide solutions to these problems.

Yang’s solution, and his plan of action, are as follows:

  1. Focus on the Freedom Dividend. This is a unifying issue — Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents have all shown enthusiastic support for the “$1K a month” plan, and we have memes of people trading their MAGA hats for Yang hats (and reports of Trump supporters re-registering as Democrats so they can vote for Yang).
  2. Place in the top three in the Iowa primaries.
  3. Win New Hampshire, which has a large Libertarian crowd that should provide additional support.
  4. At that point, Yang told us, his face is on the cover of every newspaper. Globally. “Who is this guy and how did he beat all those established politicians?” The Freedom Dividend goes mainstream, and a lot of people get really excited about an extra $12K every year.
  5. Win the election.
  6. Institute the Freedom Dividend ASAP. Both halves of Congress should be on board because it’ll pour a lot of money into red states, and if they don’t give people their $12K, they’re going to have a lot of angry constituents.
  7. Once Americans see that their country can accomplish big goals that benefit everyone, and QUICKLY, they’ll be ready to tackle even larger problems like climate change.

(By the way, I love that Andrew Yang has both a tactical plan for winning the election and is willing to share those tactics with all of us.)

“You have the history of the country in your hands,” Yang told us — referring, of course, to the Iowa Caucus.

But it can also refer to all of us. ❤️

If you want to learn more — AND I HOPE YOU DO — go to

*I am of course referring to the Bible, Matthew 13:12, “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” Coincidentally, Groundswell is part of a larger mission called Matthew 25, which “exists to strengthen core neighborhoods on the west side of Cedar Rapids and to provide opportunities for people to act on their values through service.” In the Bible, Matthew 25 includes the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and the parable of the talents, but ends with the famous verses “whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.”

The Work You Do While You’re Waiting

So after getting really excited about Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign (and his plan to give every American a $1,000/month Freedom Dividend, plus Medicare for All) I began picturing the future.

I saw myself going to Yang Gang meetings in Cedar Rapids.

Attending the Iowa Caucus, which I’ve never done before.*

Standing in a room filled with balloons and pizza boxes and all the friends I’d made along the way, watching election returns.

But it’s going to be a long time before any of that happens, if it even ends up happening. The Iowa Caucus isn’t until February 3, 2020. A year from now.

A year from now, I might be sending advance copies of NEXT BOOK to industry reviewers. I’ll be one year closer to my goal of being financially independent by 47.** I’ll have been part of at least three and maybe four Chorale Midwest concerts, including our upcoming performance of the Brahms Requiem with Orchestra Iowa. I’ll have taught more classes and written more articles and connected with more people and done many of the things I’m currently hoping I can accomplish.

And my mind has given me pictures of what all of this could look like, down to what I’m wearing and how long my hair might be.***

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that generating a highly detailed mental image of the future you want for yourself actually eliminates that future from the realm of possibility.

Every conversation you rehearse in your head is a conversation that will never take place as rehearsed

You’ve had those conversations in your head, right? You imagine yourself saying something, and then you imagine someone else saying something, and so on?

At some point — and I don’t know exactly how I put this together — I realized that every conversation I imagined was a conversation that would never take place in the real world.

Because people aren’t ever going to follow the script I wrote in my head.

So every time I imagined a conversation where I set a boundary and then someone else got really angry with me (for example), I reminded myself that by generating the conversation in my brain, I had pretty much guaranteed that it wouldn’t happen in real life.

This isn’t to say that the other person might not be upset or disappointed with the boundary I set. But they probably wouldn’t react at the level I had imagined, and they definitely wouldn’t use the exact words I had written for them.

Likewise, I might in fact end up wearing a Yang 2020 T-shirt to an election party, but the party will never look exactly like the one I’m currently dreaming.

Nor will NEXT BOOK look exactly the way it did when I first thought it up. I can follow the plot structure I outlined for myself, and build an emotional journey for the reader that’s similar to the one I had when I told myself the story I wanted to tell, but it will still be a different book than the one I initially imagined, because exposing something to the world always changes it.

(This is why so many stories include antagonistic forces — parents, governments, societies — that try to prevent people from learning about the world.)

You can’t have the future you imagine, but you can work towards the future you want

So. Creating some mental image of my sitting at a table with a stack of NEXT BOOK next to me, ready to sign copies for a queue of readers, does in fact guarantee that this particular scenario will never happen.

But it doesn’t prevent a similar scenario from happening.

It doesn’t prevent me from doing the part of the work that might someday get me to that table with that stack of books, e.g. spending one hour, Monday through Friday, working on my current draft.

And when that part of the work is done, turning that hour into editing-and-revisions time.

And, because that part of the work isn’t so far in the future that I have to imagine what it might be like, I can decide what it will be like. Right now. When it will happen and where I will sit and whether I’ll turn my phone and email off while I work.

Likewise, I can decide that today I’m going to do my bit for Yang 2020 by sharing the link to Andrew Yang’s Reddit AMA (which will take place at 2:30 Eastern today, go ask him anything), and I’m also going to share a fun article with my mom on Facebook, and tomorrow I’m going to ask my sister and nephew if they want to do a FaceTime call this weekend.****


This method works for the bad stuff as well as the good stuff. That terrible scenario you imagine happening to your job or your loved ones or your small business? Those hours/days/weeks you spend waiting to hear back from doctors or lawyers or potential employers? Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Whatever horrible thing you just imagined will never happen. Or, at least, not in exactly that way. No, it won’t happen in the slightly different other way you imagined either. It might still be stressful and difficult and complicated and a lot of work, but it won’t be whatever you just visualized. It can’t be.
  • You can still do small things, every day, to get yourself closer to the experiences you want to have right now — the tasks you want to prioritize, the connections you want to strengthen, the time you want to take to care for yourself, etc. — and those experiences will help you deal with the hours/days/weeks ahead.

I’ve found this to be one of the truest things about life I’ve ever learned. The balance of what you can’t control and what you can.

So that’s what I’m thinking about this morning, mostly because last night I was thinking about how long it was between now and next year, and how I didn’t want to have to wait for what I wanted.

Then I reminded myself that I didn’t have to wait to write another 1,000 words of my draft, or pitch another client, or send my mom something nice on Facebook, or any of the stuff that I thought I wanted in the future but actually wanted — and could go after — right now. ❤️

*I grew up in the Midwest (before leaving to bounce from one coastal city to another and then decide to move back), but I did not grow up in Iowa. My hometown is actually in rural Missouri, a two-hour drive from where I live now.

**My current projections indicate it’s more likely I’ll hit financial independence — aka “the point at which I can live off my investments” — by 50, but that’s just incentivizing me to try to beat that target.

***I’m growing out a pixie cut. “How long my hair might be” is a relevant concern.

****Why not do all of this stuff today? Because you can’t do everything today. Nobody can.

In Which I Learn About Andrew Yang’s Presidential Campaign and GET VERY EXCITED

I have never been a hugely politically active person. I vote, even in local elections, and I take the time to research the candidates and their positions before voting, which probably makes me more politically active than most — but I view our current political system through a somewhat skeptical lens and because of that have hesitated to get emotionally involved.

But I had downloaded a few episodes of the Ezra Klein Show to listen to as I did laps at the YMCA (you might remember my referencing the episode where N.K. Jemisin discussed worldbuilding), and one of them was this episode from August titled “Is our economy totally screwed? Andrew Yang and I debate,” and about halfway through the episode Andrew Yang mentions that he’s running for president.

On a platform of universal basic income (renamed “Freedom Dividends,” after Yang did some market testing to see which name would appeal to conservatives) and Medicare for All.

I have now gotten emotionally involved.

If you’re currently thinking “who is Andrew Yang and what is his deal,” which is where I was 48 hours ago, the shortest version is that Andrew Yang is an entrepreneur and nonprofit CEO who has done some serious thinking about the mathematics and logistics required to keep America’s economy going as we transition into a world with more automation and fewer jobs.

It’s the math-and-logistics part that made me decide to do anything I could to support Yang’s candidacy, starting by spreading the word on my blog.

I mean, this whole thing is extremely relevant to the core mission of Nicole Dieker Dot Com, not to mention the core mission of Nicole Dieker, the Human Person. Andrew Yang’s vision, which includes giving every American adult a Freedom Dividend of $1,000 every month, plus Medicare for All, plus social credits (backed by the government and redeemable at various retailers) for those of us who want to spend our time on non-market-based work like caring for others and community-building, will help us all get so much closer to THE WORK we want to do and THE LIFE we want to live.


Here’s what you need to do next: go listen to and/or read the transcript of this Freakonomics podcast episode, in which Andrew Yang explains his plan to Stephen Dubner. With all due respect to Ezra Klein, the Freakonomics podcast offers a much better introduction to Yang (you’ll learn about his love of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as his brief stint selling Cutco knives) and an extremely detailed summary of how Yang plans to put his ideas into action:

YANG: So the headline cost of this is $2.4 trillion, which sounds like an awful lot. For reference, the economy is $19 trillion, up $4 trillion in the last 10 years. And the federal budget is $4 trillion. So $2.4 trillion seems like an awfully big slug of money. But if you break it down, the first big thing is to implement a value-added tax, which would harvest the gains from artificial intelligence and big data from the big tech companies that are going to benefit from it the most.

So we have to look at what’s happening big-picture, where who are going to be the winners from A.I. and big data and self-driving cars and trucks? It’s going to be the trillion-dollar tech companies. Amazon, Apple, Google. So the big trap we’re in right now is that as these technologies take off, the public will see very little in the way of new tax gains from it. Because if you look at these big tech companies — Amazon’s trick is to say, “Didn’t make any money this quarter, no taxes necessary.” Google’s trick is to say, “It all went through Ireland, nothing to see here.” Even as these companies and the new technologies soak up more and more value and more and more work, the public is going to go into increasing distress.

So what we need to do is we need to join every other industrialized country in the world and pass a value-added tax which would give the public a slice, a sliver of every Amazon transaction, every Google search. And because our economy is so vast now at $19 trillion, a value-added tax at even half the European level would generate about $800 billion in value.

Now, the second source of money is that right now we spend almost $800 billion on welfare programs. And many people are receiving more than $1,000 in current benefits. So, we’re going to leave all the programs alone. But if you think $1,000 cash would be better than what you’re currently receiving, then you can opt in and your current benefits disappear. So that reduces the cost of the freedom dividend by between $500 and $600 billion.

The great parts are the third and fourth part. So if you put $1,000 a month into the hands of American adults who — right now, 57 percent of Americans can’t pay an unexpected $500 bill — they’re going to spend that $1,000 in their community on car repairs, tutoring for their kids, the occasional night out. It’s going to go directly into the consumer economy. If you grow the consumer economy by 12 percent, we get $500 billion in new tax revenue.

And then the last $500 billion or so we get through a combination of cost savings on incarceration, homelessness services, health care. Because right now we’re spending about $1 trillion on people showing up in emergency rooms and hitting our institutions. So we have to do what good companies do, which is invest in our people.

Then you’ll want to visit the Yang 2020 website and check out the policies section. He’s got goals and guiding principles for everything from combating climate change to making taxes fun.

To quote the Iowa Democratic Party Leadership: “Mr. Yang has three Big Policy Ideas — Universal Basic Income, Medicare for All, and Human Capitalism — all supported by the most comprehensive and detailed set of policy proposals we have ever seen at this stage of a campaign.”

(Go find out more about the Human Capitalism thing here.)

Lastly — and I can’t believe I’m ending this with a sales pitch, but that’s politics — you could consider giving Andrew Yang a dollar. Or more dollars, but the amount you give isn’t the important part right now. Because of the way the Democratic Party runs its show, Andrew Yang needs 65,000 individual campaign donations by May 15 to be able to participate in the upcoming Democratic candidate debates.

As of this writing, he’s at 33,675.

I’m going to support Yang 2020 for as far as it goes — I’ve joined my local Yang Gang, I’m going to the breakfast with Andrew Yang in Cedar Rapids, I might even do some phone banking — and even if it doesn’t end up in the White House, Andrew Yang has a plan for that, too.

The part of me that is still cynical about politics wants to know how Yang plans to deal with Congress, roughly half of which is incentivized to prevent him from achieving his goals. But the part of me that wants to take up my bow and arrows and follow this person I just met in a tavern and go fight some dragons with MATH AND LOGISTICS is… well, I can’t believe how much I wanted something like this until it became a possibility. ❤️