“I don’t even feel like I can say I’m a Republican because the hatred and the intolerance spill over,” says the woman.” I certainly could not put up a Republican bumper sticker on my car.”

She first agreed to be quoted by name, “to show there are people in this town who are Republicans, and that’s okay.” But after talking it over with family members she changed her mind. Her neighbors “wouldn’t be rude to me” in person, she says, but she was afraid she’d be flamed online.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton got 86 percent of the vote in the city, capping decades of decline for local Republicans. Ingrid Sheldon, the city’s last Republican mayor, left office in 2000, and the last two GOP councilmembers switched parties a few years later. Today’s council is not a big happy family, but it is a Democratic one.

Sheldon and others from her era identified as Milliken Republicans, after the late governor Bill Milliken: fiscally conservative, socially progressive. She says she is not voting for Trump–and adds, “I think anyone who is a Trump supporter is keeping very quiet.”

Yes. Republican National Committee member Rob Steele–whose Facebook profile photo shows him with the president, grinning and giving a thumbs-up–didn’t respond to an email or a call to his office (he’s a cardiologist). Former Republican county commissioner Dan Smith agreed to a phone interview but canceled by email, citing “the extremes that unfortunately exist locally.” The Washtenaw County Republican organization didn’t respond to emails, and, as of mid-October, no longer had a working phone number.

Social worker Samantha Toma emails that she’s “a little nervous to ‘come out'” as a Republican. “I probably would be a pro-life Democrat,” she says, “but they’ve made it clear we’re not welcome.” She finds community instead with her church, Christ the King Catholic parish.

Roger Kuhlman is not afraid to voice his support for Trump in local online forums, though the retired accountant admits he might be if he were still working. A leftie when he was young (“I went through a period when I thought Lenin was all right”), he now sounds off frequently on what he calls Ann Arbor’s intolerance, and says he’s been banned from nextdoor.com for his contrarian views. “The left-wing activists have become so intolerant it’s frightening,” he says. “The idea that America is dominated by systematic racism and white supremacy is hateful.”

Dentist Doug Hock says that some friends have tried to “shame” him and his wife for their support of Trump. “We tried to tell them it’s not the candidate,” he says. While admitting Trump has “a very abrasive personality,” Hock appreciates his support for “religious freedom, increased manufacturing jobs, [bringing] troops home.” He describes global warming as “a controversial thing.”

Hock believes that “social media and Trump combined to make [political discussions] much more volatile … My wife likes to openly talk about politics. I tell her ‘Be careful, be careful.'”

He says they felt “a good deal of trepidation” when they put out a small Trump/ Pence sign on their front lawn. Persons unknown moved it a couple of times, to places where it was harder to see, but it was not stolen, as he’d feared it might be. And one neighbor “complimented us for having the gumption to put up a sign.”

That neighbor even gave them a second Trump sign–though he suspects that may have been because she was afraid to put it up in her own yard.

from Calls & Letters, December 2020

In online comments, several readers suggested that local supporters of Donald Trump were protesting too much about being persecuted, noting the president’s incendiary statements and pointing out that Biden backers, too, were harassed in the runup to the election (“Lonely Republicans,” Inside Ann Arbor, November.)

In an email, Judy Cohen added that Roger Kuhlman was only temporarily barred from Nextdoor.com. We should have specified that he told us he was banned for a month.