Fireworks, parades, and a partisan divide that won’t go away

flag

A flag hangs from an old corn crib on property in Sanilac County owned by Tom Herbon in honor of Independence Day. (Bridge photo by Brian Widdis) SLIDESHOW: Click the arrows or swipe to see all the participants in the Michigan Divided project ->

tom herbon

“You have people saying, ‘Oh, I would have died without Obamacare.’ Ok, well, you would have died without Obamacare, but I’m still paying triple what I would have before.” Read about Tom Herbon here.

parade

“There are days I just feel defeated. Like, good God, how long do we have to put up with this?” Read about Lisa King here.

dave frohiep

“I’ve always had a job. I feel like a bum.” Read about Dave and Sherri Frohriep here.

wilfredo diaz

“A lot of times I tell myself, I don’t care what happens if I get deported. I don’t want to live my life in fear.” Read about Wilfredo Diaz here.

charara

“People seem to feel they can be out front with their prejudice more now.” Read about Mariam and Hussein Charara here.

ron price

“OK, Trump, I’m still with you, but you gotta start working your deals, which you say you’re so good at.” Read about Ron Price here.

cynthia shafer

“People don’t want to discuss or debate. They just say ‘You’re wrong!’” Read about Cynthia Shafer here.

jim and aric

“I actually think it’s been worse than I thought it would be.” Read about Aric Knuth and Jim Leija here.

asandi conner

“I have chosen to be out of it. For my mental well-being.” Read about Asandi Conner here.

john hulett

“I think he (Trump) is getting unreal resistance.” Read about John Hulett here.

ben shomo

“It may just be a point in my life when I’m not interested.” Read about Ben Shomo here.

A large American flag waved in the breeze from an old corn crib in Sanilac County, in Michigan’s thumb, where Tom Herbon had hung it for the Independence Day holiday. Family and friends were coming to his 1880’s farm house for the holiday weekend. There would be a bonfire and the promise of mulberry pie.

Sitting on the curb near the Michigan Capitol building in Lansing on July 4, Lisa King and her family held smaller versions of the same flag. Baton twirlers, belly dancers, clowns and politicians paraded by.

Herbon and King are both Michigan natives. They both have college degrees and live in comfortable, suburban homes. Both, when asked what matters most, are quick to answer “family.” Yet on Independence Day, they look at the flag and see a country headed in different directions. Herbon is “ecstatic,” King angry. Both say almost everyone they personally know agrees with their views. Both believe the other is wrong.

And neither is planning to change.

(CLICK THE SLIDESHOW ABOVE TO MEET ALL OF MICHIGAN'S DIVIDED)

The 2016 presidential election may not have created the divide between Michigan residents, but it exposed deepening fault lines. Bridge is following 11 individuals and couples throughout 2017 to try to better understand the bubbles in which they, and most of us, live. The project is an effort to explore the political and social issues that divide us, and the common ground that might serve to bring us together.   

Read full coverage of the Michigan Divided project

One is a retired engineer who believed electing Hillary Clinton would be the “end of America as we know it.” Another is a poetry teacher who in “conspiratorial moments” after Donald Trump’s election, worried about prison work camps. A U.P. couple stocked up on ammunition, believing if Clinton were elected she would impose harsh gun control. A young professional woman considered buying extra birth control before Trump took office.

Our team of reporters and photojournalists began chronicling these very different Michigan residents on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. We checked in with them on or around the Fourth of July to see if the events of the past six months had changed them.

They hadn’t.

After a turbulent stretch that’s included investigations of Russian hacking, healthcare gridlock, and environmental friction from Paris to the Straits of Mackinac, the divide remains as wide today as in January. Of the 11 individuals and couples (14 people total) we are following, only one has had a change of heart, saying that if the election were held now, instead of voting for Trump, she wouldn’t bother voting at all because “it doesn’t matter who’s in office.”

Some have withdrawn from news, others have become more involved in politics. Almost no one said they had a better understanding of how their ideological opposites could hold different worldviews than they did during the hyper-partisan days surrounding the Trump inauguration.  

What can be done to bridge the divide, when both sides blame the other for the gap?

“The divide is worse now than it was four or eight years ago,” said Herbon, 57, of Troy. The blame for that divide, according to the lifelong Republican, lies with Democrats. “I don’t see why people wouldn’t think (Trump’s) doing a good job,” Herbon said. “For people to be unilaterally against Trump blows my mind.”

“It’s so polarized. Each side feels like they’re right,” said King, 35, of East Lansing, a Democrat. “I struggle with it ‒ where does it come from? I keep thinking Republican’s will come out and say, ‘OK, let’s work together,’ but it seems like they’re all just trying to get their own way.”

The individuals and couples are split between those with only a vague notion of what has transpired in Washington since Inauguration Day Jan. 20, and those following events with a red-hot intensity within their own ideological camps.

Yet whether they closely follow the news or try to avoid it, on issue after issue, those who voted for Clinton and Trump continue to view the world through partisan prisms.

Every person Bridge is following who voted for Trump said they felt Russian meddling into the U.S. election was either false, unimportant or a distraction.

“This whole Russian connection thing, I tell you what, it’s a huge distraction from the real issues,” said John Hulett, a 72-year-old conservative Christian from Ionia County.

“I don’t know and I don’t care” if Russia took steps to try to help Trump win the election, said Herbon, who built a Trump sign, attached it to the back of his minivan and drove it to his polling station on election day. “There’s nothing they could have done that would have influenced my vote.”

Those who voted for Clinton could not name anything the new president has done that they support. “If anything, he’s worse than I expected,” said Aric Knuth, 40, of Ann Arbor.

The Jill Stein voter in the group says he'd still vote for the third-party candidate. Even the individuals who chose not to vote for president in November are dug in, saying they would still not vote. Asandi Conner, 46, of Detroit,  filled in the rest of her ballot but left her presidential pick blank. She said she knew she wasn’t going to vote for Trump, but she had concerns about Clinton, too. When she got her ballot, she decided to not vote.  “Despite everything,” Conner said recently, “I have no regrets.”   

Only Sherri Frohriep, of rural Luce County in the Upper Peninsula, budged in her political views in the past six months. She and husband Dave Frohriep have been unemployed for the past year. They voted for Trump in part because he promised to bring back jobs. The couple is still jobless, and recently had their electricity turned off.

“I probably wouldn’t vote,” Sherri Frohriep said. “I honestly don’t think it makes a difference.”

Most seemed stumped about how to bridge the divide. Herbon, who said he gets his news primarily from conservative talk radio and President Trump’s tweets, suggested that “journalists have to be objective and just write the facts.”

Jim Leija of Ann Arbor, who is Aric Knuth’s husband, said he suspects the gap between people actually is shrinking. “I think there are a lot of Trump voters who are just afraid to admit” they are disappointed in the president, Leija said.

Does he think there also are Clinton voters who are softening their opposition to the president? “I don’t know any Hillary supporters who have changed,” Leija said. “There’s no reason to change.”

Leija and Knuth spent part of the night of July 4th with their dog Maisie, who was cowering in the bathroom from the sound of bottle rockets in a nearby cul-de-sac. Conservative Christian John Hulett did the same thing with his dog Goldie on his Ionia County farm.

“From a patriotic perspective, this is one of my favorite times of the year,” Hulett wrote in an email. “People come together for celebrations, parades, community outings, camping with families and enjoy time off. Polarization seems to reduce for a window in time as we realize we share the same space, basic values and are free in a country that allows such diverse views.

“Hopefully, it will spill over into the rest of the summer.”

About The Author

Ron French

Ron French is Bridge senior writer, based in Lansing. He can be reached at rfrench@bridgemi.com

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Comments

Matt
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 10:31am

The biggest take away is the state of un-reality that so many folks live in! Trump presidency means that jobs will immediately flood into the UP, or Trump will take away women's birth control pills among so many others. Here's an idea, take a three month summer news/internet vacation and spend time with your kids!

Rich
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 10:33am

Of course we have a divide. Every time I read a newspaper or listen to news, it is a constant whine about the divide and hate in people. Doesn't matter if it's a liberal outlet or a conservative outlet, all anyone wants to report is the divide in peoples' feelings, and how it is destroying the country. Can't anyone find some real news to report?

I've switched which channels I watch, and find I'm reading the paper less just to get away from all the hatred. My own perspective is that the news outlets are primarily liberal in their reporting, which could come from the fact that the journalists are primarily liberal. Liberal Arts educated people primarily see gray, whereas scientifically educated people see black and white. I can not understand why everyone is so attached to Obamacare when premiums, deductibles, and co-pays are going through the roof, but I guess it is good if someone else is paying it for the person attached to it. I can not understand why no one is addressing the real culprit in healthcare which is high costs. Yes, we do pay double what the next closest country pays on a per capita basis. And maybe it is really the fact that the lobbyists for high costs are so successful with either party.

But back to the story, why can't the news outlets report real news instead of always trying to fan the flames of sensationalism.

Sharon
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 12:29pm

These are real stories, what I am truly interested in. Thank you. Since the election I have gone out of my way to listen to people who voted differently from me. I have learned so much. I would still vote as I did, but I do hear what others feel and experience. At the same time I have cut way back on TV, newspaper and radio news, and I'm happier for it.

Ron French
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 12:49pm

Thanks Sharon, and thanks for reading.

Ed Haynor
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 4:04pm

I appreciate Mr. French’s article, but I believe he and Bridge, are surveying the wrong people. Hard core democrats and republicans, rarely ever change their minds on who they voted for, regardless of circumstances.

I lived through the Watergate era with Nixon and even though he resigned in disgrace, I don’t recall republicans I know who voted for him, showing any regret and I should know, since I live in a republican stronghold.

As Trump said on the campaign trail in Iowa, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters.” Reading some of the comments and background information on who Bridge surveyed, Trump’s assertion, rings loud and clear with many of those who voted for him. Even as we learn of more corruption from Trump and his administration, on a day-to-day basis, especially the Russian election hacking scandal, those who voted for him in this survey would do it again. So, no news here.

What Bridge should do is find independent voters, who have a track record of not voting for political party and voting for the person, they believe will do the best job, to see if those who voted for Trump, without being hard core party affiliates, now regret their decision; and if they do, why? Knowing this, would be more informative and newsworthy

Matt
Wed, 07/12/2017 - 1:16pm

Generally your independent voter is someone who hasn't had the interest to try to understand and consider even the basic foundations of any given issue so they blow from one candidate on one side to another who is diametrically opposed the next time. Not really worth a lot of study. When it's all done, 1/3 of voters are on the right another third on the left and the middle third picks their candidate like one chooses what movie they're going to see on a Saturday night. What's more interesting is what experience or dogmas put a voter on one side or the other.

***
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 7:08pm

I suspect a lot of people regret who they voted for but the hardest thing for people to do is say "I was wrong", it just goes to a basic human condition of not wanting to lose face.

Robpollard
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 10:34pm

I don't know about a lot of people, but I am sure there are plenty of "What the Hell, Let's Try this Guy" low info, low engagement voters like the couple in the UP who thought this would be like a Reality Show and he'd make a "deal" and, bam, they'd have a good job with health care. They will admit they are wrong. Who knew real life governing could be so complicated?

But that's a small percentage. The rest are with him to the end.

Chuck Jordan
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 8:43pm

The good news is that Clinton lost. The bad news is that Trump won. We were screwed one way or the other.

duane
Thu, 07/13/2017 - 7:58pm

We knew what we would get with Clinton, down the same old path with no change in results.

With Trump we don't know what we will get, but in spite of all they are trying to do to him we still have hope for change and as long as there is hope for change then it is worth the risk.

duane
Wed, 07/12/2017 - 6:47am

The Bridge is not ‘exploring’ the ‘divide’ it [like the rest of the news media] is exploiting if not exacerbating the ‘divide.’
If they were truly interested in the political landscape of Michigan they would not have this tunnel vision that excludes everything except where there is a ‘divide.’ Wearing such blinders prevents them seeing the whole. Bridge is ignoring the truth about Michigan, we don’t do battle every day, we live and work and go about lives [caring for our families, caring for our communities, contributing to charities, helping each other] using what we have in common. I don’t start any conversation by asking what someone’s political affiliation is, I focus on the person and what is at hand and we can do together. If someone does mention their political view on something that differs from mine, I surely don’t end the conversation or activity and walk away. Where I volunteer there is a wide range of political views but we are all there for a common cause, helping others and that doesn’t stop because of any ‘divide’.
The disappointment of Bridges’ approach to Michigan political difference is that it builds barriers to change and success. The proper way to approach this differing of political perspective is to use it to address perennial problems/issues. If the people at Bridge could only grasp the principle of synergy, the value of competing ideas, the diversity of perspective they would be looking at when these people drawn together and reporting on how they work together. Instead Bridge only seeks to report on the differences try to make that the reality our elected officials play to.
The perennial problems are such because we have had such singular thinking addressing them, we need competing ideas that can be blended together, we need the diversity of perspective to open out thinking to variations on what we know, and we need the synergy of differences to fit the ideas together to make a better whole. If Bridge let go of their myopic view and looked for when and what people were doing together it would change the whole of the conversation, it would show how we are similar and we are all different, we have common hopes and dreams and commitments to family, friends and community, we are individually unique but our culture blends us all together in the ‘melting pot’ of America/Michigan creating a unique ‘flavor’ to freedom and choice and creativity that allows us to breaks the chains to the past and helps us change making a better future. Where Bridge only seeks the divide in our lives they fail to see what is common and how those divides make us the same as those who have gone before us. The Bridge fails to grasp how when we are allowed to harness those differences and use them together we can trust each, we value difference, and we find that because we are all allowed to be different here, we find ourselves so similar at our core.
My concern is that the people at Bridge have not had the opportunity to be part of seeing synergy work, having the aha moment when an oh so slightly different perspective cause them to see an idea in a different light, or going into the arena of competing ideas and knowing a new idea influenced by all the different ideas will emerge delivering a better answer than any of the others could have provided.
I have come to appreciate the affliction of ‘journalists,’ always being driven to look for the exceptions in people and events. They never allow themselves to experience the workings of the people or events and the having to solve problems by letting go of what you believe so you can listen to others and think differently then you were prepared to think. This can be an insurmountable barrier for them to understanding how difference is what has fed the success of America, of Michigan, and of communities. Bridge needs to admit to its differences and plunge into being part of a problem solving effort that is fueled by difference so they can learn why and how difference is why there is such a thing as American exceptionalism and they can see how only reporting on the differences is creating barriers to it moving us forward and creating a better tomorrow as it has done throughout our 240 year history.
But then there is the history of Bridge and they won’t allow themselves such a lesson, it presents to great a risk to their comfort.
I wonder how many readers can recall working with people that they have differed with and yet that working together delivered good results. If someone doubts that the differences coming together don’t deliver better results, ask me for my examples in the classroom, in the workplace, even with government, and especially on the battlefield. In each of those it was the synergy of difference that allows me to set here and pontificate about how great is it to have differences. In reality I am different from every one of those Bridge is tracking, and from everyone that will read this comment [aren’t you relieved by that thought?].

William C. Plumpe
Fri, 07/14/2017 - 3:56am

So it's OK for somebody to be corrupt and tell bold faced lies and grow wealthy at the country's expense and if we all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" it's all OK?
I'm all for cooperation but that doesn't mean your way or the highway or else. Trump has shown absolutely no effort to really reach across the aisle. I won't be browbeaten by an arrogant, venal, brutish bully with bad orange hair. Gee I guess liberals can be angry too. Just wait. You ain't seen nothing yet.

duane
Sat, 07/15/2017 - 1:50am

William,

I don't know anybody here is corrupt, I only want ideas, and the thinking behind them.
Its about being focused on results and using the difference to develop ideas and methods that one sided views would never consider. It is about making ideas better and accountable so the ones that work are expanded and the ones that provide the same old disappointing results are allowed to die and are replaced with new ones that must prove themselves.

It isn't kumbaya, it it about competing ideas and approaches that stimulate new thinking and trying new ways. It is about people being encouraged to questioning, learning, and building on each others thinking. It's not allowing politicians forcing people to '...vote for it so we can see what's in it...' It is about being in the open listening to what others are thinking and learning why and using that to build ideas that address those concerns.
You pick a problem and you and I who with out different ideas and anyone else that wants to join in try to solve that problem with innovative ideas. It is about using the differences not trying to eliminate them or runaway from them. Why not try it, why not listen to different perspectives and see how we can make those differences build ideas?

Oh, never assume about others, what they have seen or experienced, for there is more in this world than what we individually know. One reality I have learned, the emotions of anger are hard to sustain without diminishing the capacity to think effectively.

cj
Thu, 07/13/2017 - 10:04am

Somebody ease explain to Herbon that the blue square and stars belong on the left side, not the right (pun intended). #FakePatriot #ClosetBigot

William C. Plumpe
Sun, 07/16/2017 - 7:20am

I still am of the opinion that anybody who voted for Trump is a moron. Sorry for the ad hominem attack but that's how strongly I feel. And liberals can be angry too.
Trump's shameless self promotion and arrogant bully attitude may play well with working class males but not with folks like me who pardon me have a brain. Besides Trump's appeal smacks of demagoguery, false populism and a creeping anti-intellectualism that goes counter to what America really means. While the founders of the country were mostly farmers by trade they were all deep thinkers and some were professionals so they don't really fit the modern Tea Party mold of a disgruntled working class white male. And even more I don't like and am fearful of what appears to be a subtle yet continuing push for one party rule in Washington to "get things done". It was said of Fascist Italy prior to WWII that "You couldn't go anywhere without an identity card but the planes, trains and boats all ran on time all the time". I don't know about you but I don't want to give up basic freedoms and authorize a totalitarian State just to "get things done". I understand the frustration but it's just not that simple.

duane
Sun, 07/16/2017 - 9:52pm

William,
You must be so satisfied with the results we are getting from government programs because of your unwilling to do things differently, or you are akin to those in Washington that want power so much that they lash out by defaming people to prevent the will of the people and change.
You’re flailing at the unknown suggests a lack of self-confidence, a lack of trust in the American people, even a desire for an intellectual ‘elite’ that will think for you and suppress the voices that think for themselves suggests a fear of the future.
The reality is that the differences in people and their thinking, their willingness to take risks to improve results, their willingness to sacrificing to improve their lives is the foundation of our country, our success, our freedom.
As for your concern of one Party rule, to fear that from a man who has been in office for 6 months and has much of his own Party conspiring against him shows a lack of critical thinking. The best means to avoid a one Party rule is for the other Party to change and address the concerns of the voters rather than continuing to force on them a particular method of governing they resist. Ask any company that was successful and failed, it was because of their arrogance/unwillingness to listen to those they serve.