Tired of the Battle of Seattle? I Am, But Jesus Isn’t.

Our liberal cities may seem like spiritual wastelands, but redemption is possible.

By David Marshall Published on April 2, 2024

A glimpse from outside:

A silver Prius appears on the screen in the American Culture class I’m teaching in Beijing, where I’ve gone to escape this year’s politics back home in Seattle.

“Liberal or conservative?” I ask.

My students stare at me in bewilderment. What does a wheeled vehicle have to do with a political party? their eyes seem to ask. That’s a car. A ‘Prius hybrid,’ whatever that is.

Another image appears. “This is a Hummer,” I say. “Left or right?”

They’re still confused, so I explain. American “liberals” or “progressives” tend to prefer hybrids, because they believe more strongly that “global warming” is an existential threat. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to have larger families, so they need larger vehicles with better hauling capabilities.

As society splits over ideological lines, anything can become either a flag to rally your friends or a club to batter your enemies. Football or soccer? Bacon or organic farming? Sleep in on Sunday or go to church?

The choices change with the political winds: The left was defunding police all through 2020, but later, when the right tried its hand at rioting one day in DC, Democrats remembered that policemen had souls, too. Cities were suffering badly.

And that’s when my hometown turned into an ideological club.

A Case Study in Civil Issues

Seattle’s image has changed. When an online magazine recently published an article about places to see in and around the city, the comments poured in: “A total garbage heap!” “Used to like the place, but I wouldn’t visit it now!” “Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco have been ruined by the Left. I wouldn’t set foot in the city – might get killed.”

Almost every major American city has been run by Democrats for decades. I agree that many of those leaders are batty. It was painful to witness the “peaceful demonstrations” of 2020, with their torched cities, cheap shots (mostly verbal) taken at police officers, and skyrocketing violent crime rates — along with deaths of despair from drug overdoses and suicide.

That’s when the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” was established — a lawless four-block ghetto nestled among the swanky homes in one of Seattle’s wealthier neighborhoods. That revolutionary micro-state was founded in response to lies about the police, as I demonstrated in a furious e-book I wrote that summer. Mayor Jennie Durkan talked about how shutting down a police precinct might bring a “Summer of Love.” The nation laughed. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter’s 24-day neo-Marxist rule resulted in four shootings, two homicides, arson, and several alleged sexual assaults.

But 2023 was better. Our Huskies made it to the National Championship game, a movie was released about the University of Washington rowing team shaming Adolf Hitler, and the people of Seattle elected a former Husky linebacker as their new mayor.

Even the old City Council seems to be coming around some. Conservatives are still rare as roadrunners, but this new crew seems to have some notion of making the city safer and cleaner.

Everybody’s Problems

The fact is, for all the times my fellow conservatives use West Coast towns as clubs with which to beat liberals, cities on the West Coast remain safer than most. The murder rate in Seattle is higher than it’s been in decades, but still just half of what it is in Jacksonville, Dallas, or Houston. It’s a third of Atlanta’s, a quarter of Cleveland’s, a sixth of Memphis’s, and let’s not even talk about New Orleans or St. Louis. And those cities are all located in largely “red” states.

I’m not hawking liberal politics here; I’m only asking we recognize the whole truth. Most of our cities’ biggest problems transcend political divides. Who dies of drug overdoses? Who is stabbed in the streets? Who is getting divorced? Whose children are being raised without fathers?

The answer: People on all sides of the political aisle experience these tragedies.

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Principles do matter. We talk about what it means to be a man or woman and why Christian values work, when tried. And we even talk about those things in large cities run by Democrats, if sometimes less radical ones.

Educated families tend to stick together better, and the divorce rate is lower among Asian-Americans, who tend to vote for Democrats. America’s problems are not confined to left-wing districts, nor to families that vote D.

Saving Our Cities

I hate it when the left makes a petri dish of my hometown for daft social experiments, but I also hate it when the right treats it as a political piñ For me, Seattle brings very different images to mind:

  • Crabs hiding under seaweed, furtive octopuses skating away, and the smell of sea mud on my hands as I dig for butter clams at low tide a few blocks from my childhood home.
  • Bicycling to Alki Beach (where Meg Ryan would later spy on Tom Hanks and his son in a famous movie). Grandma had more courage than Meg Ryan, I guess: that’s where she met Grandpa after the First World War.
  • Mom and Dad taking in neighbor kids when their alcoholic father became abusive.
  • A kind neighbor letting us play baseball in her yard, and my brother and I rewarding her with a window broken by a foul ball.
  • The sun setting on the snow-covered Olympic Mountains in the evening, with many-colored sailboats racing with the wind on Puget Sound like a convoy of seaborne butterflies.
  • Reinventing the Wave in Husky Stadium in a gloriously delightful 1981 game (which we almost forgot to watch) against Stanford.

I don’t think there’s another city in America more beautiful than mine, with volcanoes rising to both east and west like giant ice cream cones — Rainier to the south and Baker to the north – the city gliding like a canoe loaded with skyscrapers between Lake Washington to bow and Puget Sound to port.

No doubt you have stories to tell about your city, too, though. A conservative seeks to love and preserve what God has given us, and what past generations have built upon it. That includes native peoples who have lived in these glacier-carved valleys for millennia, and who deserve a good conservative party.

So let us not despise or abandon our liberal wastelands. And let us take the same care for our conservative wastelands, where broken people also must be healed: those who hate their own sex, are addicted to drugs and online thrills, who live on the streets and defecate on sidewalks.

You need not be a fan of Donald Trump to long to see America made great again. But we can’t make it so by dismissing our great cities. There is still much beauty in them, and many kind people. Our cities are worth saving, not laughing at or abandoning.

 

David Marshall, an educator and writer, holds a doctoral degree in Christian thought and Chinese tradition. His most recent book is The Case for Aslan: Evidence for Jesus in the Land of Narnia. 

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