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Trump sparks anticipation, anxiety in Metro Detroit

Leonard N. Fleming, and Charles E. Ramirez

The inauguration of Donald Trump brings to a close one of the most divisive presidential elections in U.S. history, leaving some gleeful about the next four years and others fearful for the country.

Donald Trump

From auto workers to Muslims to veterans to teachers, Metro Detroiters have different perspectives on the brash Republican businessman. Some fear his presidency could turn back the clock on immigration and civil rights, while others are hopeful Trump cannot be bought or sold by special interests and has the ability to keep jobs in the United States.

Trump enters the White House on Friday with the lowest approval rating in decades, and his critics are not surprised, given his propensity for engaging in Twitter spats and a slew of controversial Cabinet picks.

But his supporters see change they believe the country needs and believe Trump will keep his promises — and that has a chance with both houses of Congress under Republican control.

Here’s a glimpse of the diverse views on Trump from a range of Metro Detroiters.

‘He’s another Reagan’

Sandra Haroutunian, 51, of Clinton Township, poses with a bear wearing a Trump T-shirt as she holds the official Presidential Inauguration invitation to the swearing-in ceremony and festivities.

Sandra Haroutunian, 51, of Clinton Township, said she believes Trump will keep his campaign promise to “Make America Great Again” and unite the country.

“He’s already proven to me that he was the right candidate,” the homemaker and jewelry consultant said. “He’s already created ... jobs and he hasn’t even taken office yet.”

Haroutunian said she voted for Trump in November’s election because she thinks he genuinely cares about the country.

“The man makes a bajillion dollars a year,” she said. “If he didn’t care about this country, why would he relinquish all that? I think he thinks he can make this country better.”

Haroutunian volunteered in Trump’s campaign in the metro area and briefly met him when he visited Novi in September.

“I believe he’s another Reagan,” she said. “People don’t see it yet because they’re intimidated.”

She also hopes Trump repeals the Affordable Care Act and replaces it with a better plan.

“We need one that’s feasible for everyone in this country,” she said. “I think health care is horrible. There are too many people walking around this country right now who don’t have insurance who should.”

But she hopes he doesn’t “poke the hornet’s nest” with foreign countries.

“I hope he maintains peaceful negotiations with Russia, China, whoever,” Haroutunian said. “I think I’m a little worried about that one. I hope we can keep being peaceful with them while allowing us to be the country we are.”

More ‘chaos’

Kim McDowell, 24, of Westland, thinks there will be a lot of turmoil over the next four years under Trump.

She said it seems like he’s not as polished as previous presidents and doesn’t have the necessary experience to run the nation.

“I think there’s going to be chaos more so than anything in the next four years,” said the flight attendant and part-time graduate social work student at Wayne State University. “I think there’s going to be a lot of ‘Oops, my bad’ because he doesn’t know any better.”

McDowell said she voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate, in the November election.

“I voted for her because her views were similar to (Vermont Sen.) Bernie Sanders,” she said. “I was more of a Sanders supporter rather than for either of the two majority candidates.”

She hopes Trump will help improve the lives of millennials like her.

“It doesn’t seem to me like he’s really for millennials,” McDowell said. “I hope he comes up with a plan to help millennials and people younger than millenials. We’re the next generation. We’re going to be the people who take over after the other generations are unable to work.”

She also fears he will run the country like a business.

“My biggest fear is he’s going to forget about the little people, especially minorities and ethnic groups,” she said. “If that happens, then there won’t be anyone to hear their cries.”

‘He will be a free agent’

To Brian Pennebecker, the election of Trump as president was “nothing short of miraculous.” In his mind, “things had to change.”

On Friday, Pennebecker, a 57-year-old self-proclaimed Reagan Democrat, Trump supporter and fork lift driver at Ford Motor Co. in Sterling Heights, will be attending the presidential inauguration.

“I’m totally fed up with politicians from both parties not doing what they promised to do when they are campaigning,” said Pennebecker, of Shelby Township. “It’s unbelievably fortunate for the country that we elected somebody that is not a politician. He will be a free agent. He can go to Washington without owing anybody anything other than the American people.”

Pennebecker, who also served in the Army in the 1980s during a time he was laid off from a job at Chrysler, sees a Trump administration over the next four years as being successful in stopping what he deems a hemorrhaging of jobs.

“This is going to shock some people, but I think he’s actually going to do a lot of the things that he said he’s going to do,” he said. “I think he’s going to build a secure barrier along our southern border, which is step one for reforming our immigration policy. I think he’s going to make it tougher for manufacturing industries to pick up and leave, relocate just south of the border and build the exact same product. It’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch.”

Pennebecker was instrumental in convincing the Trump campaign to bring Trump to Macomb County two days before the election to participate in a rally at Freedom Hill Amphitheater, promising that if the businessman showed up, autoworkers would help him win Michigan.

The only fear Pennebecker has with Trump is that “he would initiate or trigger some type of a military type of confrontation with a country like North Korea.”

“I don’t expect it to happen, but his confrontational talk and tweets and the way he operates and lack of diplomacy maybe, might lead” to a quagmire, he said.

‘A little bit of hope’

In November’s election, Rama Alhoussaini, 23, of Dearborn, supported Hillary Clinton over Trump, even serving as a fellow on the Democrat’s campaign to get out the vote.

Alhoussaini said as a Muslim American of Syrian descent, she is worried about a Trump presidency, especially given his comments about banning Muslims from entering the United States.

“There were a lot of the people that defended the things that he had been saying, giving him excuses,” she said. “Every time he’d come out and say something there were a lot of people cheering him on, but there were just as many people that were going out and criticizing him.”

When asked about what she sees from a Trump presidency, Alhoussaini said: “Nobody actually thought he’d win, so it’s kind of hard to say what’s going to happen in the next four years.”

But Alhoussaini, a University of Michigan at Dearborn graduate who oversees a daycare center that her family owns in Dearborn Heights, is heartened by what she terms a “resistance” movement that will challenge the new president and GOP-controlled Congress.

As far as what she expects him to accomplish, she struggled for answers.

“I know that it’s hard at this point, but maybe there’s a little bit of hope. Even President Obama has come out and say we should give him a chance. I guess it would be nice if he proved everybody wrong. So far, it doesn’t look like he will, but you never know.”

Alhoussaini said she is most afraid of “backlash that we’ll see from his Cabinet” regarding education and public schools. She’s also worried about a rise in hate crimes under Trump.

“There’s this climate of hate, and a lot of people think they can get away with doing things like pulling off a woman’s hijab or yelling things like go back to your country,” she said.

‘Remarkably divisive’

John Stilley is preparing for anything during the upcoming Trump years.

“I’m not sure he’s going to be very predictable,” the 56-year-old from Clarkston said. “I think what he really likes to do is surprise people. I think in order to surprise people, he’ll have to do things that they’re not expecting him to do.”

Stilley, a counselor with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and chairman of the Waterford Democratic Club, didn’t vote for Trump in November.

“I found him to be remarkably divisive,” he said. “I thought he worked very hard to force Americans apart, to create artificial separation, mistrust and fragmentation. We need to be in the opposite direction of that, in my opinion.”

Stilley hopes the president will govern differently than how he campaigned.

“My very strong hope is that he will seek to unite the country instead of dividing it,” he said.

He also fears Trump will operate the way he did in running his business empire.

“It appears there’s fairly good evidence that (as a businessman), he takes advantage of the little guy whenever he can get the opportunity to do that, many times not paying small business contractors, forcing them to take him to court,” he said. “Again, there’s that divisiveness ... and I really wish we don’t go in that direction. We already have that in Congress and in too many of our state Houses.”

‘He connected with me’

Gene Yee thinks Trump will revive the economies of the country and Metro Detroit.

“I think he’ll get them both back on their feet through jobs and some infrastructure improvements,” he said. “And both those things are a priority for a lot of people, not necessarily for a particular political party.”

Yee, 68, of Bloomfield Township, said he was initially a supporter of John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio who unsuccessfully campaigned for the party’s nomination. Being a loyal Republican, Yee supported Trump after Kasich was eliminated.

Yee, a retired Chrysler engineer, said he likes Trump’s style.

“I know a lot of people have a difficult time looking at Trump through political glasses. He’s not a typical politician,” he said. “But if you look at him as a business executive, it made a lot of sense what he was doing and why he was doing it. I think he connected with a lot of people. He connected with me.”

Yee said he hopes Trump keeps his campaign promises.

“The tenets he espoused during the campaign, by and large, made a lot of sense,” he said.

Yee, an American-born son of Chinese immigrants, said he hopes the president addresses the country’s illegal alien problem.

“There should be some kind of control,” he said. “My family came here legally and spent a lot of money to do it, but there’s others who just walk right in.”

But he said he fears the country won’t unite under the president.

“The atmosphere and the tone is very, very different from all the other elections I’ve seen,” Yee said. “You can see it today with all of the divisiveness; it’s at a level I’ve never seen before.

“We need to be together to make things happen. If you’re fighting each other, then your house will fall. That’s not rocket science.”

‘I’m feeling very unsettled’

The best way Angie Church, a 41-year-old social studies teacher at Berkley High School, can describe her thoughts on a Trump presidency is that “I’m feeling very unsettled.”

Church, who also lives in Berkley and supported Clinton, said she had to convince herself the government’s system of checks and balances “will work” and keep Trump from abusing his power.

“I’ve found myself wavering back and forth between, ‘We’re going to be OK’ to ‘What in the world is happening? I don’t know if we’re going to be OK,’ ” Church said.

Trump will present “a lot of flipping and flopping, a move in one direction and then it will move in a different direction. The transition so far has felt whimsical, and I wonder if maybe the next four years will have a similar feel.”

Church expects some changes in the Affordable Health Care Act given the Republicans have majorities in both houses of Congress as well as a push for term limits on a national level.

“I don’t have a sense of what he wants to accomplish,” she said. “I have some tidbits of where he’s hoping to go, but it doesn’t align with what I believe. I don’t believe that we need to deregulate Wall Street. I don’t feel like we need a wall bordering Mexico. “I guess I kind of hope some of those things do fade into the woodwork and that there is some sort of shift valuing diversity rather than try to single people out.”

What prompts the most fear in Church is Trump “won’t be able to step back from the situation, whatever that might be, and be real about it.”

“It will be this, ‘I’m fine, it’s good, it’s great, can’t you all see this ...’ ” she said. “But I feel like our best leaders are people who can really self-reflect and can really think about how can we do this better. We’re trying to teach our kids that. I have yet to see this president-elect do that, ever.”