As I see it, the city has basic management problems but also enjoys considerable strengths and social capital; Covid-19 mortality was low partly because people wore masks and looked out for one another.
So what lessons are there for the country?
One wing of the Democratic Party, encompassing President Biden but also policy wonks to his left like Elizabeth Warren, focuses on practical steps to improve people’s lives: vaccinations, broadband, highways, child allowances, day care. Another wing of the party emphasizes identity politics and theatrical grand gestures to redress historical wrongs and push for a fairer society.
It’s more complicated than that, of course, and many progressives including me believe both in broadband and in remedying historical wrongs. But some woke moves, like Dr. Seuss’ publisher pulling some of his books, look ridiculous and others just seem out of touch with complexities on the ground.
Seattle leftists set up a six-block “no-cop zone” downtown last summer to protect the public from police violence. Six people were then shot in the zone within 10 days, simply confirming the value of a police presence.
In San Francisco, the Board of Education became a laughingstock when it voted to rename 44 school buildings, including ones named for Lincoln and Washington. This month the board rescinded its decision after parents protested that the board should focus on getting children into those buildings.
Someone asked me if it was true that in New York City one can be fined $250,000 for calling someone an “illegal alien.” That’s absurd, I replied, just more right-wing propaganda. Then I checked and, yes, it turns out that calling someone an “illegal alien,” with intent to demean, can be punishable by a fine of up to $250,000. Is that really the best way to improve anyone’s life?
So as I contemplate Democratic aims and toolboxes from this sullied but still lovely city of Portland, I reach two conclusions.