In the days when you could still watch a nature documentary without feeling as if you were sitting through a politics lecture I saw footage of a pack of smaller predators taking down an elephant. At the time I remember thinking: ‘Why don’t you keep running? Why don’t you knock the first one off and keep going?’ Strangely, I thought of that elephant again in the very different savannah of Portland, Oregon.
In recent years this city in the Pacific Northwest has become famous for a variety of reasons — none of them good. As one long-term resident said to me last week: ‘This used to be a very civil town.’ Not any more.
Of course, like every city in the west, the madnesses that already existed here have been exacerbated by the coronavirus and the ensuing decision to lock down the population and shutter the economy. As in cities across the UK, the businesses here are mainly closed, many for good. Some were able to get through one lockdown but very few can get through multiple lockdowns or the depression to come.
As a result, downtown Portland is a desolate, dangerous place, populated by homeless people who flooded into the area over recent decades, incentivised by left-wing administrations that allowed them to pitch their tents wherever they liked. In the main squares, unattended tables of food and drink are set out for them to pick at.
But it isn’t just the virus or the reaction of the authorities that led to this wasteland. The giveaway is the status of the few shops that are still open. Almost all have hardboard affixed to their remaining windows.