Ashes or Andisols: Rebuilding the Progressive Movement

“What we missed was that nobody cared about solutions.”

I remember reading that line very clearly. I was wrapping up some paperwork from a morning session on December 5th, waiting until my clock hit the top of the hour before going to greet my next meeting. I was absent-mindedly trolling Twitter and I was eating one of those Greek yogurt packs with the fruit cup attached to the back of it. It was raspberry.

I was sitting there, idly digging for another spoonful of yogurt when I saw a retweet from the Washington Post. It was just a little picture of the larger article, but the words suddenly took up all the space in my brain as if they were the size of the Hollywood sign. Like Ant-Man had just taken out an op-ed right in the middle of my skull and cranked himself up to full size.

“What we missed was that nobody cared about solutions.”

Nobody cared about solutions?


The quote was from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one of Mike Huckabee’s staffers before his campaign fizzled. She stated that in interview after interview and in poll after poll, she and her staff found that the people they spoke to were just angry.

“There was no understanding of this electorate and the anger on the front end in terms of just how pissed off they were,” she said, “They just wanted to burn it all down. They didn’t care about building it back up. They wanted to burn it to the ground and then figure out what to do with the ashes afterwards… You may have the best policy in the world to get every single American the best job they’ve ever had. Nobody cared.”

This is, of course, one staffer’s experience. But throughout the campaign, we all heard calls- whether from Trump’s supporters or Trump himself- to do just that, to burn it down. And while my new favorite saying is “defeat has one thousand mothers”, the argument could easily be made that Hillary Clinton’s major downfall was that she was establishment in a year when people wanted an outsider. She was an old growth forest standing against Trump’s million-acre wildfire. And like all the others who’d come before her, she got burnt down. Or perhaps- if you’ll excuse the pun- stumped.

Terrible jokes aside, the idea that a large group of people would want to torch the vestiges of government without any concern for what comes afterwards was completely alien to me. What do we even do with that sort of a mindset?

In the month since Trump’s election, two things that could pass for answers came to me.

First, we have to ask ourselves how we perceive the nation. Keeping with the metaphors of fire, many on the left see something of a smoking ruin- if not of the country as a whole, then at least for the Democratic party. One might be tempted to pass the whole charred mess off as just a pile of ashes and move on from it. But I would say that this is not the solution.

When a volcano erupts, it obviously has the potential for great destruction. But one of the benefits of a post-volcano area are the andisols, or volcanic ashes. This kind of ash is nutrient rich and can support very intensive agriculture when mixed into the soil.

So in a philosophical sense, we have to ask ourselves what kind of landscape we see. Do we see a barren post-Trump landscape, choked with worthless ash? Or do we see andisols and the potential for great growth?

The second thing we must consider, if we accept that there is great potential in Trump’s America, is how to go about effecting those changes we’d wish to see. With the Democrats largely out of power until at least 2018, it may seem like a fool’s errand to even ask the question of how to rebuild.

But ask we must. And we must be willing to listen. The Democratic party failed for multiple reasons, at multiple levels, and at multiple times over the course of the primary and the election proper. Turnout was down for both sides. We must therefore go to those people who voted against how the polls projected, or who didn’t vote at all, and we must ask them how we can change course.

This is a humbling conversation that must take place, but the humility does not lessen the necessity. We cannot afford to assume that there are “Blue Wall” states, or populations that can be counted on as a guaranteed voting bloc. We cannot assume we already have all the answers. No, we must go into the places where we lost our way and in good faith ask the people what they need most, and take their words to heart. For the reality of Trump’s America will likely set in sooner than later, and as his promises are revealed to be as empty and as hollow as his soul, we must be ready and willing to go to all Americans and ask them to honor us by growing with us. Then, maybe, this conflagration will have been worth it.