Michael Totten is a veteran writer who recently gave up on living in Portland and moved out. His story, called “Leaving Portland,” is worth reading for its Northwest history, the transformed and Europeanized Portland he once loved, and what happened to turn the Rose City into a place of “chronic anarchism.” He holds out some hope that Portland will sober up. Leaving the place proved hard, since real estate near the core of Portland has become very hard to sell.
Interestingly, Totten lays much of the blame for Portland’s problems on Mayor Ted Wheeler who, Hamlet-like, kept trying to find a feeble centrist stance as the city faced night after night of violence. Stop the violence, respect the right of protesters, and move aggressively to reform police. Impossible? The hugely unpopular mayor managed to win reelection, running against an opponent who boasted “I am antifa.” The radical extremists for city council also did poorly. In contrast, a previous mayor, Vera Katz, managed in earlier years through smart urban planning to dramatically make over a once-grim and depressing town.
Here’s a sampler of Totten’s broad historical analysis:
For the most part, the Pacific Northwest’s regional culture combines the best of Appalachia and New England while rejecting the worst. But a small minority of the population retrieved the rejected parts of the recipe from the cutting room floor and combined the worst instead of the best, melding Kentucky’s vigilantism and feuding with New England’s Puritanism and witch hunting.
The anarchists in Portland who throw things, smash things, and burn things are not protesting for progressive reforms. They insist that we abolish the police, abolish prisons, abolish borders and nation-states, and return the land to Native American sovereignty. They are demanding the impossible, and they are demanding it violently. New England’s utopian streak tends to attach itself to big, strong government. Appalachia has been radically anti-government for hundreds of years, but utopianism is alien to that part of America. Only in the Pacific Northwest are these contrary attitudes fused at scale.
I used to fear that Seattle was heading down the path of too-rich-and-too-poor San Francisco. Now there is a new dystopia to fear, improbably named Portland.