I have a confession to make: I have a soft spot for the city of Portland, Oregon.
For about 10 years, I traveled to Portland every summer to sell our woodcrafts at the Oregon Brewers Festival, a beer festival held in Tom McCall Waterfront Park right near the heart of downtown. (I was the perfect person to work a beer festival since I hate beer.) It was five days of madness, music, costumes and bonhomie as upwards of 70,000 people wandered through, all in a happy (and sometimes drunken) mood.
I learned to negotiate and then appreciate the complex downtown Pearl District. The venerable buildings, generous trees, beautiful river and complicated highway system always impressed this little Country Mouse. I always made sure to visit Powell’s Bookstore, a wondrous place for bibliophiles like me.
In 2020, the brewer’s festival was canceled due to COVID. This year, the festival is again canceled. No reason is given, but everyone knows why the festival cannot take place. Anarchists have taken over the downtown, right next to the park where the festival was held, and having a celebration (especially involving beer) is now far too dangerous.
For the years I visited Portland, my impression was a crazy-but-fun city whose unofficial motto was “Keep Portland Weird.” Now it’s being termed the city where “common sense goes to die.” It saddens me to watch it implode.
Apparently, what I missed during my transient visits to the Rose City were the undertones of anger and discontent. “Portlanders are furiously angry underneath their calm demeanors,” wrote the culture editor of Willamette Week in 2011. Activists were becoming bolder and more vocal. “The anger seemed free-floating; it was gathering momentum, was becoming an identity in itself,” Nancy Rommelmann recently wrote in Reason Magazine.
An identity in itself.
During 2020, Portland became a focal point for demands to “defund the police” under misplaced motivations of social justice. As nightly riots took place for months on end, the downtown Pearl District I had come to love was transformed into a war zone. Businesses fled. The only groups remaining were either violent anarchists or pitiful drug-addicted homeless people.
Trump’s election somehow tipped the “Keep Portland Weird” mantra into full-fledged insanity. Other Democratic cities were just as dismayed that Trump was in office – so what is it about Portland that caused it to implode? I don’t know if there’s a single, simple answer to that question, but the inarguable result is Portland turned on itself, fighting people and destroying businesses that were in complete political and philosophical agreement with them.
“You probably remember there was massive rioting in the Pearl District the day after Donald Trump was elected. Millions of dollars of damage were inflicted,” says journalist Michael Totten. “How many people in the Pearl District voted for Donald Trump? It’s probably not even 1 percent. Who on earth are these people who declare war on a place where nobody voted for Donald Trump? That’s not how people in a democratic society are supposed to behave. You don’t go trash neighborhoods with the opposing political party in a healthy democracy, but they didn’t even do that. They declared war on the city as a whole.”
And of course, the police in Portland were first unsupported and then defunded. As a result, murders in Portland skyrocketed 255% over the same period last year, and crime is off the charts. Oregon’s largest newspaper, The Oregonian, actually published a “mea culpa” over its previous endorsement of defunding the police after 266 shootings and 25 homicides in the first quarter of 2021.
Police officers understandably are departing Portland in staggering numbers, many giving blistering exit interviews. One retiring detective wrote, “The city council are raging idiots, in addition to being stupid. Additionally, the mayor and council ignore actual facts on crime and policing in favor of radical leftist and anarchist fantasy.”
A city that was safe enough that I could walk from Tom McCall Waterfront Park to Powell’s Bookstore has now become wildly dangerous.
City politicians, Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Council members, became trapped in their own spiraling and ineffective efforts to satisfy Portland’s progressive elements, who (gee, who’da thunk?) can never be satisfied. Meanwhile, the local and regional media pinned the blame for the violence on right-wing activists and white supremacists, and closed their eyes to any and all evidence to the contrary.
What is Portland like now that Trump is out of office? “The situation in Portland did not improve after the election,” writes Rommelmann. “Activists kept marching nightly. They swarmed the house of a newly elected city commissioner because he’d voted against the latest measure to defund the police. They vandalized 27 businesses along a six-block strip in Northeast Portland. They established an ‘autonomous zone’ called Red House, ostensibly in support of a black and Native American family facing eviction. And on New Year’s Eve, they used Molotov cocktails and other high-powered incendiary devices to cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage in downtown.”
While domestic terrorists chant “Every city, every town, burn the precinct to the ground!” and attempt to burn the ICE building while deliberately trapping federal agents inside, the left is still pretending the Jan. 6 Capitol rally was the worst thing since Pearl Harbor. According to the current administration, Antifa is an “idea” and the Jan. 6 rally (which by some estimates reached 2 million people) was “domestic terrorism.”
For the anarchists now holding Portland hostage, they’re finding it’s easy and fun to let their Inner Barbarian run amok. After all, who’s gonna stop them? Not the city politicians. Not the police. Not the court system. And certainly not the unarmed park rangers being hired to replace the police.
Today, you couldn’t pay me to visit the hellhole that was once a beautiful destination city.
If anyone wants to see the end result of progressive programs, look at Portland. Its politicians have turned the once-vibrant city into a laboratory for criminal justice reform, and its residents have clamored for the policies now causing its demise, “destroyed from within by radical activism and political ineptitude” in the words of Rommelmann.
And that’s why I lament Portland.
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