Formerly Bruised and Smokey, the Pacific Northwest Endures

5 mins read



It pleases me to report that I just visited Seattle’s Capitol Hill looking for anarchists, looters and the like and came up empty-handed. Despite one piece of anti-police graffiti I would like to unsee, the area that had suffered some violent demonstrations had been seized by brunchgoers chatting over their eggs Benedict. People lined up outside The Elliott Bay Book Company waited patiently and several feet apart. Social distancing, you know. Over at Blick Art Materials, it took about 15 minutes to reach the cashier.

This has been a terrible year for Seattle and even more so for Portland, where far-right and far-left misfits had been doing battle night after night — with President Donald Trump cheering on the former. Oregon has the misfortune of being home to radicals of both persuasions.

Recall the days not long ago when massive forest fires choked the region’s air with terrifying brown smoke. The Seattle area also saw this country’s first serious coronavirus outbreak. Although it brought the transmission rates way down through lockdowns, mask wearing and other precautions, Seattle is seeing a spike thanks to irresponsible University of Washington students ignoring the rules.

There’s a big country out there with tremendous public health problems and related economic problems. Nearly all of America has been suffering from the virus, with cases now rising sharply also in the Midwest and the Rocky Mountain states. And the Northwest was hardly alone in confronting a tormenting battle with natural disasters. Violent storms have flooded the Gulf Coast as monster winds have blown apart swathes of the heartland.

Yet almost all attention gets focused on Trump and his unending parade of exploding spectacles. His bout with COVID-19 is one of the few spotlights he hasn’t dragged onto himself — though was anything weirder than his short Sunday spin outside the hospital in an armored presidential limo?

Seattle did look a little beaten up, as does every town and city plagued by the virus-related closings. Trump added cramps to the pain with his fantasy portrayals of civic disorder taking over Seattle, as well as all of Portland and New York City. From his mental meanderings and news reports centered on some sporadic violence, many thought the Northwest was getting stomped under the jackboots of anti-fascist extremists. Trump’s nonsense about the antifa threat was easy to ignore. (For me, the smoke would have been a more serious deterrent, and it was gone when I arrived.)

Crime has actually dipped across Seattle, including in the so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. And the recent Portland rally called by the Proud Boys, the white supremacist group that Trump gave a thumbs-up to at the debate, drew far fewer participants than expected. There wasn’t any “serious violence” this time, according to a relieved Multnomah County sheriff.

Communities with strong civic cultures — where people wear masks to protect their neighbors as well as themselves — are the places that will best survive the craziness of 2020. I was surprised to see nearly every hiker in Washington’s Saint Edward State Park wearing a mask, children included, even though we were outdoors and generally well apart.

Too bad that Loren Culp, the Republican challenging Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, has made mask wearing optional at his rallies. While campaigning recently in and around Spokane, in the eastern part of the state, Culp urged students to return to school with or without masks.

Despite a tough, tough summer, the Pacific Northwest shows every sign of enduring as the economic and cultural power it’s long been. And as my departing plane flew past snow-streaked Mount Rainier lording it over the Cascade Range, I thought, it’s still gorgeous as well.

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