Meet Michigan's divided: Aric Knuth and Jim Leija

Aric Knuth and Jim Leija

Jim Leija, left, and Aric Knuth (Photo by Brian Widdis)

Vital stats

Names: Aric Knuth and Jim Leija
Ages: Aric is 39; Jim is 37
Place: Ann Arbor
Jobs: Aric is a lecturer and director of the New England Literature Program at U-M. Jim is director of education and community engagement at the University Musical Society
Incomes: $170,000 combined
Voted for: Clinton
Hopes or fears for 2017: Loss of hard-fought gains for minority groups

ANN ARBOR — Someone recently asked Jim Leija when was the last time he spoke to a person without a college degree. He was stumped. Original artwork hangs on the walls and Chopin plays softly in the background of the home Leija shares with Aric Knuth. The gay couple live in the most liberal city in Michigan and work for what many consider the most liberal public institution in the state, the University of Michigan. Aric teaches poetry and fiction writing. Jim works with guest performing artists. They have five degrees between them.

“People accuse us of living in a bubble,” Leija said, “but what is clear to me is that the only way this election could happen is that everybody lives in a bubble. It’s just become easier and easier for all of us to socialize with people who are like ourselves.”

That’s easy to do in Ann Arbor, where Clinton defeated Trump 83 percent to 11 percent. Knuth described the campus after the election as akin to 9/11, with “groups of students in the hallways weeping.”

Knuth, 39, is from Oscoda, a low-key, rural community on Lake Huron that seems a world away. “Where I come from, people feel estranged from the mainstream political system,” he said. “I do wonder, are their views less valid? God, that sounds like a really elitist thing to say, but I do struggle with that.”

Both men wonder whether a widening gap in education contributes to Michigan’s polarization. “What if you find that this thing you were striving for, this education, is the thing that alienates you from people who you used to be close to in your family?” asked Leija. “If education is what starts to separate us, what does that mean? How do you deal with that?”

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Shakuntala Tamb...
Mon, 07/03/2017 - 6:31pm

Kudos to you for getting people to start thinking introspectively about how we have become divided in Michigan. My husband and I both agree that education has nothing to do with the division in our society. I am a registered Ann Arbor Democrat who voted for Obama and graduated from the University of Massachusetts. I am married to a professor of Economics at Oakland Community College. We both voted for Trump in this recent election. I totally credit this to having pierced the liberal bubble we both lived in. It was popped by our friendship with conservative Republican ranchers in Nebraska that we have come to know, love and respect over our fifteen years of visiting them each summer. Far from being ignorant rubes, they, their children and their grandchildren are all college educated, intelligent and interesting. In fact, their grandson is a physics genius working on his Phd at the School of Mines. They also voted for Trump. I am personally appalled by the hate and derision I have had to face as a Trump voter in Ann Arbor. It is assumed that I am stupid and uninformed or bigoted. College educated liberals in our town condemn me without ever having asked my point of view or gathered any data. Our mayor Christopher Taylor has referred to people like me and other Trump voters as "pollution" to his fair city, all because we exercised our right to vote for the candidate of our choice. It's obvious to me that everyone needs to put down their assumptions about each other and start talking to each other. These interviews you are conducting are a great way to begin!