Portland’s problems are no mystery. The problem is ideology
“What’s the matter with Portland?”
That was the question asked in a lengthy and interesting report in The Los Angeles Times. The piece was enlightening in the sense that it did capture the mentality that has led to the city’s awesome dysfunction.
It highlights how despite that dysfunction — rising crime, rampant open-air drug use, and many other signs of urban decay — many of the city’s residents are simply unwilling to acknowledge how ideology and bad policy have turned the Oregon city that should be quite pleasant to reside into a shell of its former self.
Some residents, such as Flora Gonzalez, who lives in a blue-collar neighborhood now beset by crime, can see clearly what the problem is.
From The Los Angeles Times report:
The 40-year-old package handler for FedEx said that people have openly dealt drugs and urinated on the sidewalk outside her family’s duplex. They‘ve dumped feces and used syringes in her manicured yard, played booming music at 3 a.m. and stripped stolen cars for parts. Shots have been fired behind her children’s bedroom.
“We feel abandoned,” Gonzalez said. “We pay our taxes, and the police are not watching over our security.”
Why aren’t the police watching out for her security? Well, in the wake of the George Floyd protests of 2020, the Portland City Council defunded the police department. The besieged and likely demoralized police department now struggles to find qualified employees to meet its staffing requirements.
It seems the problem could be fixed by re-funding the police, restoring the confidence of the quality officers who serve, and by aggressively policing and prosecuting the behaviors that have turned parts of the city into dangerous hotbeds of violence and criminality.
That would be a simple, but certainly doable, shift in priorities. However, The Times gets to the real issue with Portland, and it’s not just the criminals.
The newspaper also interviewed Juniper Simonis, environmental biologist and data scientist whose yard featured a handmade “Disarm, Defund, Dismantle Police” sign. Despite the escalating crime in her area, Simonis said that the problem with Portland wasn’t that it was too liberal, but that it wasn’t liberal enough.
She said that Portland is trying to “regulate homelessness out of the city” and that it needs to devote more resources to social services.
“Conservatives have long branded this city Exhibit A for how liberals and so-called ‘woke’ policies have run amok,” the Times piece read. Well, yes. “While many Portlanders roll their eyes at such tropes, polls conducted last year showed only 11% of voters thought Portland was heading in the right direction — a steep drop from 36% in 2020 and 76% in 2000.”
Maybe, instead of rolling their eyes, they should consider how their worldview — almost entirely ascendent in seats of power in Portland — is leading to misery, not utopia.
Portland suffered even more civil chaos than most other cities in the past few years. Following the death of Floyd in May 2020, the city experienced 100 days of protests that often turned violent. It was a city plunged into anarchy, with weak leadership that accommodated the anarchists. Despite his aid and goodwill toward the protests, the radicals turned on Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat.
Wheeler’s trials and tribulations have been somewhat amusing, but there’s little indication he’s willing to make the wholesale change in direction the city needs.
As we see so often in history, it’s far easier to tear down civilization than to build or rebuild it. Cities that have notably disintegrated since the summer riots of 2020 aren’t likely to right themselves in the short term. Much damage has been done, and the mentality and willingness to fix the problems often isn’t there.
If anything, the troubles that the riots of 2020 unleashed are now becoming entrenched and worsened. The ideology of Portland’s leadership and plenty of its residents makes it nearly impossible to fix things. According to Portland’s KGW-TV, “every 42 minutes there is a report of vandalism in Portland,” often involving broken windows.
There were more reports of broken windows last year than even during the year of riots in 2020.
“In 2022, there were 12,238 reports of vandalism citywide — including broken windows, according to data from the Portland Police Bureau,” KGW-TV reported. “The agency doesn’t separate broken windows from other types of vandalism. Last year’s numbers are up 27% from 9,660 vandalism cases in 2021. In 2020, there were 8,322 cases and 6,289 in 2019.”
Almost all of those who have been arrested for these crimes are repeat offenders. Most often, the perpetrators aren’t arrested. When they are, they soon end up back on the street. That’s a winning formula.
As New York City discovered during the mayoralty of Rudy Giuliani from 1994 to 2001, the “broken-windows policy” — in which “low level” offenses are strongly policed to prevent larger crimes—actually works. Will Portland’s leaders get that message any time soon? Probably not.
Back in the day, Irving Kristol wrote that a “neoconservative” was a liberal “mugged by reality.” But in places like Portland, there’s a critical mass of liberals who have been mugged, yet choose to stay stridently attached to the ideology that led to the mugging.
Time and again, we see presumably intelligent, professional people throw out all rationality on behalf of their ideology. In government bureaucracies and other places of power, this misguided ideology is even more deeply entrenched.
The excuse that they make when things go awry is that they didn’t hold tightly enough to the dogma — if only they had more faith in progress and continued to push the wheels of history forward. Just create another department of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and surely things will work out. If only those darn reactionaries in Portland weren’t standing in the way!
A recent case in my hometown of Oakland, California, illustrates this mentality. Car break-ins have become an absolute epidemic in the Bay Area. Like many other cities, the protests and riots of 2020 led to a serious “defund the police” movement. Violent crime skyrocketed.
On Feb. 6, a local baker was violently attacked during a car break-in, and she later died of her injuries. The robbery occurred in broad daylight. It’s a horrifying case of violence that should prompt some reflection on the city’s troubles.
The baker’s family and friends insist on not prosecuting the criminals involved because the baker believed in “restorative justice.”
“Feels like absolutely an opportunity to stand in her values, and support the world that she wants,” one of her friends said in an interview with KGO-TV news. “By actually showing that something different than actual policing and prosecution is possible, and is how we can have accountability.”
That alternative seems to be letting killers go free.
If you want to live in the forest with ferocious bears, and one day a bear eats you, well, that’s your choice. The problem is, we don’t live out in the woods alone with bears. We live in communities.
Failure to punish crime and criminals has empowered criminality. Who knew?
The result is that innocent people pay the price for the failure to administer justice.
In hyperprogressive cities such as Portland, the result has been an astounding increase in violent crime in a relatively short amount of time.
So, “what’s the matter with Portland?” as The Los Angeles Times asked. The answer is quite simple — if only they would listen.
Originally published at The Daily Signal.
Jarrett Stepman is a contributor to The Daily Signal and co-host of The Right Side of History podcast. He is also the author of the book The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America's Past.