Four years ago, a sickly orange cloud fell over Oregon. Only now can we fully survey the damage done by Hurricane Trump.
Portland greeted the 2016 election of Donald Trump with revulsion. For a week in November, protesters chanted and marched. Opportunists followed in their wake, destroying property.
A week after the election, WW said: "Trump's election doesn't just mean a triumph for Republicans at the far right edge of the party. It means that a boor, admitted sexual predator, and racist will occupy the White House. His victory emboldens white nationalists who would make this country great by silencing anyone who doesn't look like them."
In that issue, we attempted what reporters often don't do well: We tried to predict our future under Trump in several specific categories.
Some readers accused us of being alarmist. "I'm not sure I've ever read a more doom-and-gloom, worst-case-scenario article," one reader wrote.
This week, with hopes that the nation will choose a different president, we decided to revisit our forecast. And we must admit: We were wrong about how bad a Trump presidency would be.
It was worse than we imagined.
In short, we lacked a sufficiently dystopian imagination. In particular, we didn't foresee how Trump and his fans would single out liberal Portland as a target for street brawls and federal policing. We did not predict that the president's attention would turn Portland into a scene of violence, and how his inattention would allow a virus to kill our loved ones and shutter our shops and restaurants.
To be sure, some things worked out better than we expected. So in the following pages, we look back on most of the predictions we made in 2016. We've graded ourselves on the following scale: Is today's reality better, worse or the same as we expected?
Many of Oregon's problems are of our own making. And the partisan divisions in this state existed long before 2016. (See this story for a look at a part of Oregon where that divide widened.)
But where possible, we've tried to look at how the decisions of this White House specifically affected Oregonians.
It's a useful lens through which to view one of the strangest and most scarring four years in the history of the republic.
—Nigel Jaquiss, Latisha Jensen, Aaron Mesh, Rachel Monahan and Tess Riski
In 2016, WW said that under Trump, women were unlikely to lose reproductive rights and the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't overturn Roe v. Wade.
In 2020, the reality is worse.
It took the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September, but this week Trump delivered what he promised Christian conservatives: A majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices oppose a woman's right to an abortion. Meanwhile, 17 abortion cases in circuit courts of appeals across the country are one step away from reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a Planned Parenthood analysis.
This makes it within the realm of possibility that Roe v. Wade, decided in 1973, will be overturned in the next few years.
So what does that mean for Oregonians? Abortions will still be legal here, thanks in large part to the Oregon Legislature's 2017 passage of the Reproductive Health Equity Act.
"In Oregon, we are one of the few states without restrictions to access abortion because our state and voters have made it really clear that abortion is health care," says Emily McLain, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon. "It will fall to states like us to be haven states."
Residents of Idaho, where abortion would likely be criminalized should Roe fall, would need to cross the border to Oregon or Washington to access it legally. And some Oregonians, too, will need to travel long distances to access those services. TR.
In 2016, WW predicted many Mexican immigrants would be deported.
By 2020, that prediction came true—and then some.
We gave this policy the highest likelihood of happening—and it did.
But plenty of undocumented immigrants were deported before Trump's election. In fiscal year 2019, Trump deported 267,258 immigrants, up 14 percent from 2015, the end of the Obama administration, though still 40 percent below the peak year of fiscal year 2012.
What no one expected was how ghoulish immigration policy would become.
Most recently, it has become clear that 545 children who were removed from their parents as they crossed the border may never be reunited.
"Four years ago, I would have absolutely said that no administration would deliberately harm children as a policy strategy," says U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). "That's something that evil dictators do in faraway lands, not something that would ever happen in the United States of America. How wrong I was."
Carmen Rubio, a Portland city commissioner-elect and executive director of the nonprofit Latino Network, knew that anti-immigrant policies were coming, because Trump had campaigned on the issue, but she too was caught off guard.
"It was the way they confidently stepped over the line of decency and ethics time and time again that was terrifying," says Rubio. "The cruelty which seemed to root all these policies seems bottomless." RM.
In 2016, WW said that Trump would not place Muslims in internment camps, though we predicted a rise in discrimination.
In 2020, it's clear we were mostly right.
Trump issued no executive order enacting internment camps, the way FDR did with Japanese Americans in the 1940s. (The detention centers on the Mexican border strike many observers as effectively concentration camps.) But he did institute what was effectively a Muslim travel ban in 2018.
Trump's policies and rhetoric fanned the flames of racism that have increased since 2016. No incident was more searing for many Portlanders than the MAX stabbings in 2017, when Jeremy Christian verbally harassed two Black teenage girls, one wearing a hijab, about their faith and then killed two men and wounded another who tried to intervene. (One of the teenagers, Walia Mohamed, said during Christian's murder trial in 2020 that she no longer feels safe wearing her hijab in public.)
"I think [Trump] has caused four years of trauma that's going to be hard to overcome," says Zakir Khan, board chair of Oregon's Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Changing a president doesn't stop the trauma of being discriminated against in a store or from a job." TR.
In 2016, WW said that even Trump and his U.S. Department of Justice couldn't outlaw cannabis where it was legal.
In 2020, it appears we were right.
Trump did take a swipe at our weed stash. In 2018, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, rescinded the Obama-era Cole Memo, which limited the federal prosecution of crimes in states where cannabis is legal.
But as WW reported in 2018, there was no evidence that U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams had done much with weed other than crack down on Oregon's flower being sold across state lines. All told, 11 states now have legalized recreational use, and 33 legalized medicinal use. Four states—Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and New Jersey—have November ballot measures to legalize recreational use.
Meanwhile, Oregon 3rd District Congressman Earl Blumenauer continues to chip away at legalizing cannabis federally.
"The Trump administration has been no friend. Jeff Sessions at every instance tried to put sand in the gears," Blumenauer says. "But we had a united front that was quite effective We're basically on track to have the most productive four-year period in terms of advancing the cause of eliminating the federal prohibition of cannabis." TR.
In 2016, WW said pay equity and workplace child care were lost causes.
In 2020, the reality is better than we expected.
Here's one example of Oregon pioneering while the nation stalled.
In 2017, Oregon passed a pay equity law, which prohibited employers from asking job applicants about previous compensation and required equal pay for equal work. So, while Trump surrounded himself with Cabinet members and advisers hostile to such policies, Oregon moved forward—although equal pay is still more of a concept than a reality in many workplaces.
As for workplace child care, no one made much progress in the past four years. That's part of why Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has made federally funded universal preschool a key plank in his platform and why Multnomah County placed one of the nation's most aggressive and novel preschool measures on the November ballot. NJ.
In 2016, WW said any progress on the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup would be lost.
In 2020, the reality is better than we expected.
In 2000, the federal Environmental Protection Agency declared parts of the Willamette River in Portland a Superfund site because of the industrial waste that had accumulated on the river bottom. Because more than 100 companies—many no longer in business—as well as the city of Portland and the Port of Portland bore some responsibility, getting responsible parties to agree to a billion-dollar cleanup plan has been like herding catfish.
We expected chaos after Trump, famously averse to environmental regulation, took office. But in fact, some useful compromises were forged. The EPA finally released a cleanup plan the month Trump took office, and the agency has now gotten many of the largest actors to agree to pay their share. It did, however, in 2019, downgrade the toxicity of one of the chemicals found on the river bottom, which will save companies $35 million in dredging costs. NJ.
In 2016, WW said federal agencies would still respond to a natural disaster in Oregon.
In 2020, no one did.
In 2016, we wondered what the Federal Emergency Management Agency would do in the aftermath of a Cascadian megaquake. Would the president withhold aid as retribution to a state that had supported Hillary Clinton? We said that was unlikely because of faith—perhaps naive faith—that even under Trump the rules of politics forbade abandoning a large swath of the country.
Of course, the Big One did not hit in the past four years, but with 225,000 Americans dead, a similar disaster unfolded that Trump failed to address because of his incompetent, overly political response.
COVID-19 behaved like an earthquake the president could pretend didn't happen. He publicly denied the threat of the virus, dismissed mask-wearing, and settled on a "response" of just letting the virus infect more Americans. If enacted in a second term, his plan would kill millions.
Oregon was left to its own devices to set policy, with decent if not extraordinary results.
"Clearly, there have been major shortcomings with the Trump administration's lack of a coherent federal strategy to address the COVID-19 pandemic," says Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Gov. Kate Brown. "And the politically charged statements the president has made on everything from wearing masks to white supremacist groups has caused irreparable harm."
Four years ago, Steve Novick, then the city commissioner in charge of emergency preparedness, predicted incompetence from Trump's FEMA rivaling former President George W. Bush's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. He was right.
"I certainly stand by my statement that this administration is at least as incompetent as 'heckuva job, Brownie'—although in this case it really seems that the incompetence flows directly from the top," Novick says now. "There have been competent people in the government trying to deal with the pandemic, but Trump only listens to crazy people like [Dr. Scott] Atlas." RM.
In 2016, WW said thousands of Oregonians would lose their health insurance with the elimination of Obamacare.
In 2020, it hasn't happened—yet.
In 2016, the prospect of tens or hundreds of thousands of Oregonians losing health insurance seemed a real possibility, considering Trump wanted to get rid of Obamacare.
But early on, there were clues that Trump didn't really have the attention span, policy chops or legal team required to destroy his predecessor's signature domestic policy achievement. "Nobody knew health care was so complicated," Trump said on Feb. 27, 2017, less than two months after taking office.
Multiple efforts to repeal the law in Congress failed during Trump's tenure, most famously in 2017, when terminally ill U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) crossed the aisle to cast the deciding vote against repeal. Bottom line, says Allyson Hagen, who tracks data for the Oregon Health Authority: no loss. "Coverage has remained fairly stable," Hagen says.
But that could change the week after the election, when the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear another argument for repeal with Trump's newest appointee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, sitting on the court. NJ.
In 2016, we said Trump would award Oregon's top federal legal jobs to far right-wingers and Oregon would lose all influence in Washington, D.C.
In 2020, the reality is better than we expected.
In Oregon, Trump made only one serious effort to put a strident conservative on the federal bench, and it didn't work. Trump nominated a former protégé of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Assistant U.S. Attorney for Oregon Ryan Bounds, to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the nation's most liberal appellate panel. But a national advocacy group dug up inflammatory op-eds Bounds wrote as an undergraduate, scuttling his nomination. (Former Washington County Circuit Judge Danielle Hunsaker got the job instead.)
Trump left U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams, an Obama holdover, in place, and the one judge he named to the U.S. District Court of Oregon, Karin Immergut, is a moderate. "We lucked out," says Beth Bernard, executive director of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association. "We got people who put fairness ahead of politics, and that's not what we've seen in the rest of the country."
It's true that Oregon's largely Democratic congressional delegation has been sidelined for much of the Trump era, which doesn't put the state in a good position to score federal pork. And Trump's unpopularity arguably cost Republicans control of the House in 2018, leading to the retirement of Rep. Walden, the only Republican in the state's congressional delegation and one of the senior members of his conference. "I think he retired because he thought they'd be in the minority for a while," says GOP political consultant Jim Pasero.
We'd be remiss not to mention Gordon Sondland, the Portland hotelier whose companies quietly contributed $1 million to Trump's inauguration. He became very influential—with the House committee that tried to impeach the president.
Trump named Sondland ambassador to the European Union, where, according to former national security adviser John Bolton and others, Sondland tried to insert himself into Trump's dealings with Ukraine and later told Congress there was indeed a quid pro quo. "Everybody was in the loop," Sondland testified. "There was no secret."
Trump survived the Portlander's testimony. NJ.
In 2016, WW said new light rail projects would be scrapped for decades.
In 2020, the reality is better than we expected.
Mass transit, including trains, is not a priority of the Trump administration. Despite that, major projects around the country have moved forward in the past four years and the feds propose to put more than $4 billion into four new projects next year. Among those: two projects in Washington state, where Trump lost by a bigger margin in 2016 than he did in Oregon.
TriMet, in fact, remains confident that if voters pass Measure 26-218 and provide seed funding for a new light rail line between Portland and Tigard, the feds will kick in $1.3 billion—and perhaps more. "We have shared with the [Federal Transit Administration] that TriMet intends to request a minimum of $1.3 billion, and we believe that amount is feasible," says TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Allstadt. "It is possible that a higher amount could be pursued if Congress moves forward with an infrastructure package and/or the funding for the program increases." NJ.
In 2016, we said freedom of the press would wither.
In 2020, we admit we misunderstood the threat.
Our worry in 2016 was that Trump would seek to throttle his longtime nemeses—newspapers—by encouraging court restrictions on a free press. In particular, we feared he would (using his words) "open up the libel laws" to allow powerful people to sue their critics and watchdogs out of business.
Flat out: We guessed poorly. Trump not only failed to narrow press freedoms, he didn't even try. Arguably, his overall impact on the media was neutral: He yelled "Fake news!" at the TV reporters in the press pen at his rallies, but he also increased their ratings. Maybe he wanted that result. Clowns need a circus.
However, there's no question the press is in worse condition now than it was four years ago. It's just that the real threats to journalism were digital behemoths like Facebook and Google, and a crumbling business model further ravaged by COVID-19. Trump got the media landscape he wanted, even if he didn't act to create it: Many citizens get their news directly from the president and his toadies, and rarely encounter a newspaper headline. In 2018, the Washington Monthly reported that Trump has more followers on Twitter—53 million—than there are digital subscriptions to all American newspapers combined. AM.
In 2016, WW said organized labor would be gutted by right-to-work laws.
In 2020, the reality is much as we predicted.
In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Janus v. AFSCME that union members could not be compelled to pay dues. That 5-4 decision probably happened because Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's first appointee, joined the court rather than Obama's last appointee, Merrick Garland.
For foes of organized labor, such as the Oregon-based Freedom Foundation, the court ruling was decades in the making. Jason Dudash, director of Freedom Foundation, says 18,000 Oregon union members have stopped paying dues since the decision. "Oregon has seen some of the most dramatic losses in union membership in the entire country," Dudash says. Among those who've taken hits: the Oregon School Employees Association, the American Federation of Teachers and Service Employees International Union.
SEIU Local 503 executive director Melissa Unger, who leads the state's largest union, acknowledges many SEIU members stopped paying dues. But she says Dudash's numbers tell only part of the story. Unger says the union has actually grown substantially during Trump's tenure, mostly through new home-care members. "We are a much bigger union today," she says. Most the departures came right after Janus, Unger says."The Freedom Forum wants to say we're a dying breed," she says. "That's definitely not true." NJ.
In 2016, we said Trump would reverse efforts to halt climate change.
In 2020, he has.
Of the many bleak consequences of Trump's presidency, this one is perhaps the most crushing to contemplate.
The planet, like the reporters writing this story, is up against a hard deadline: Cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 or watch much of the globe become uninhabitable. By some estimates, we already blew that chance: The effects of a rapidly warming planet are underway, and the best we can hope for is suffering rather than extinction.
In September, a climate research firm estimated Trump's rollbacks of Obama's climate regulations will result in an additional 1.8 billion tons of carbon emissions pumped into the atmosphere in the next 15 years. Other choices can be reversed. This one can't.
And so Oregon is reaping the whirlwind: weeks on end of unbreathable air, filled with ash from forests turned to kindling. Local attempts to address the problem brought state government to a halt, as Republicans refused to cooperate with bills reducing carbon emissions.
Some activists have simply turned to the task of helping people deal with the inevitable disasters. In 2018, Portland voters passed a Clean Energy Fund to help low-income people of color weatherize their homes to save energy and handle extreme temperatures. Earlier this year, fund champion Oriana Magnera described success: "Having lower energy bills, building resiliency and helping folks stay in their homes." AM.
In 2016, WW said Nike would be hampered by trade restrictions.
In 2020, the reality is better than we expected.
Although Trump followed through on threats to place tariffs on Chinese imports, this concern fizzled completely. Nike had already shifted major operations to Vietnam and also sold a lot of product in China—so the amount of Chinese-made goods the company brought to the U.S. was modest. Meanwhile, online sales boomed everywhere, and the sportswear giant saw its revenues grow steadily through Trump's tenure. And like other big corporations, Nike enjoyed a hefty tax cut in 2017, when Trump slashed the top corporate rate from 35% to 21%.
As for the indicator that would matter most to the president, who is famously fixated on stock prices, Nike's shares have risen from about $50 when Trump was elected to about $130 today. "The athletic footwear and apparel markets have been very strong over the last four years," says Matt Powell, a longtime industry analyst at the NPD Group. NJ.
In 2016, we said LGBTQ+ rights would be rolled back and violence against women would spike.
In 2020, it turns out we were right.
President Trump governed as he campaigned. For LGBTQ+ people, that's meant the erasure of their rights.
On his first day in office, his administration erased mentions of LGBTQ+ people from government websites. The White House has banned transgender people from enlisting in the military, allowed health care facilities to deny care based on religious beliefs about gender, and refused to allow LGBTQ people to identify their demographic in the 2020 census.
Kieran Chase, manager of the transgender justice program at Basic Rights Oregon, says LGBTQ people are making decisions to get married and file for adoption now, in fear the new Trump-appointed Supreme Court will roll back more victories.
"There are people taking quiet preparatory steps because they don't know what the future is going to look like," says Chase. "The Trump administration has been holistically antagonistic to the LGBTQ community in a way that's frightening."
Trump's tenure was also marked by a sneering disrespect for women. He mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. His often-bewildered secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, succeeded in rolling back Obama-era protections for college sexual assault survivors.
But Rosemary Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center, says one of the most damaging impacts of the Trump administration is what he hasn't done: renew the expired Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding for thousands of organizations.
"A lot of organizations only exist because of government funding. All these victims in Oregon are going to lose out on critical services," Brewer says. "There's clearly a lack of respect for an entire gender that the president shows. It doesn't feel good as a woman that our president doesn't respect women." LJ.
In 2016, we said white supremacist groups would flourish.
In 2020, they're flourishing.
In 2016, we had no way of predicting Trump would summon a goon squad of Fred Perry-wearing brawlers who would target Portland for regular fistfights with the locals. Still, we got the gist of it correct: Nationalists, especially those who despise people of color, would be emboldened.
Eric Ward, executive director of Western States Center, a nonprofit that tracks extremism, says Trump performed as he expected.
"What frightens me more is not what Trump is doing, but lack of vigorous response from state and local governments and business leaders," Ward says. "That's what's much more disturbing and surprising to me."
Ward points to three ways white extremist groups gained traction in Oregon through Trump's administration: They've achieved visibility and credibility, making them feel empowered; Trump's rhetoric created a space for belief that political violence is acceptable; and white nationalist groups appear to have cemented intimate connections with law enforcement.
After Election Day, hate crimes spiked. And the Southern Poverty Law Center reported the number of U.S. hate groups increased by 30%.
In this region, extremist groups, such as Patriot Prayer, founded by Joey Gibson in Vancouver, Wash., in 2016, and the Proud Boys, which have three Oregon chapters, gained traction.
Ward says Trump's administration targeted the rights of people of color, the LGBTQ community, and women through budget policy executive orders and rhetoric. All of those gestures signaled to the far right it was OK to go after these marginalized groups.
Even if Joe Biden wins, Trump's followers, such as those who allegedly plotted the kidnapping of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, will not go quietly into the night.
"When paramilitary say they will use violence, we should believe them," Ward says. "When these paramilitary groups say they believe civil war is coming, we should believe that that is what they will be attempting to do. We have to be smart enough to know there will be folks there to intimidate us." LJ.
In 2016, WW said that the Columbia River could become a freeway for fossil fuels.
In 2020, it appears we were half-right.
Oregon doesn't produce fossil fuels, but the companies that mine coal in Wyoming and pump crude oil in North Dakota and Canada were hoping the Trump administration would turn the Columbia River and adjacent rail lines into a giant energy export facility.
Results have been mixed. Washington regulators blocked both what was supposed to be the largest coal export facility in the U.S. at Longview, Wash., and a huge crude oil export terminal at Vancouver.
But crude oil trains continued to roll along both sides of the Columbia to terminals in the region.
During Trump's tenure, U.S. crude oil production increased significantly and state figures show the volumes shipped to Oregon increased 250 percent from 2016 to 2019, to 24,639 rail cars.
Columbia Riverkeeper executive director Brett VandenHeuvel says Trump succeeded in placing energy industry lobbyists or supporters in key federal regulatory positions, but adds that opposition in the courts and by state regulators has staved off major threats. "There's been an all-out assault on the climate and our environment by the federal government for the past four years," VandenHeuvel says. "Its been one problem after another. Fortunately, in Oregon, we've been able to push back on a lot of the worst projects by challenging them in court or pushing local and state officials to deny permits. There's been real important contributions to pick up the slack." NJ.
In 2016, we said the Portland Police Bureau's settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice would be gutted.
In 2020, the reality is worse than we thought.
Policing in Portland turned out to be of far more interest to President Trump than we ever could have imagined.
The feds were monitoring Portland police already—to make sure they were complying with a 2014 settlement to correct a "pattern or practice of using excessive force" against people with mental illness. Observers say the White House and its Department of Justice haven't paid much attention to that.
"I think DOJ has been largely hands off since the Trump administration took office," says J. Ashlee Albies, a Portland attorney representing the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform in the settlement agreement. "I don't see tremendous outcome changes."
What Trump has cared about is Portlanders protesting (and sometimes rioting) against police brutality. He deployed hundreds of federal officers to Portland this summer, some of whom yanked demonstrators off the street in unmarked vans. He used Portland as a testing ground for how he might quash civil unrest nationwide.
Even though Trump cares only about a show of strength, the protests this summer also matter because they grew out of years of broken promises to Portlanders that policing would change. Instead, Portland police continue to fatally shoot people with mental illness. Between 2015 and 2019, the Portland Police Bureau shot and killed six people who were in mental health crises, according to The Washington Post's police shooting database.
Juan Chavez is a lawyer with the Oregon Justice Resource Center who has closely followed the agreement for years. "It didn't even need to gut itself. This wasn't a tree that was going to flower," Chavez says. "The only metric that we can really hold ourselves to is, has the life of people experiencing mental illness as it relates to how they interact with PPB improved? And it hasn't." TR.
In 2016, WW said gun control might be abandoned, and gun violence might increase.
In 2020, the reality is about as we expected.
WW predicted correctly that the only hope for gun control legislation was on the state level. Oregon lawmakers delivered, yet gun violence has not abated.
In 2017, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 941 with bipartisan support. The bill was effectively a "red flag law," based on the principle that people who want to harm themselves or others with firearms tend to show signs beforehand, i.e., "red flags." The law allows family members or law enforcement to petition the court for an "extreme risk protection order" to temporarily restrict a person's access to firearms. It also revokes a gun license if that person currently has one. The petition is usually granted within 24 hours.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that between Jan. 1, 2018, when the law went into effect, and Oct. 31, 2019, 166 petitions for extreme risk protection orders were filed. Judges granted 122 of those and denied 44. The majority of petitions filed were for people at risk of suicide.
That's the good news. The bad news? Gun violence in Portland reached a historic peak this summer, with 103 instances of gun violence in July, 121 in August, and 118 in September (a 243% increase from 32 shootings in September 2019), according to data from the Portland Police Bureau. The reason behind the spike in shootings is unclear, though the mayor's office told KGW-TV it may be related to "economic conditions and COVID-19." TR.