Two Kenosha neighbors, two views of nation’s political divide

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The Morgans and the Hanneses fly their political colors — one for President Trump, the other for Joe Biden — on adjoining front yards that have remained a neighborly, if intense, battlefield in the nation’s culture wars.

At the Morgan home on Third Avenue in Kenosha’s historic Harbor Side district, a Trump flag waved in the breeze Friday next to a “Women for Trump” sign and a carved wooden bear wearing a homemade plastic “Make America Great Again” hat. Mary Morgan keeps close watch on things, as people have stolen her signs and shouted epithets toward her.

On the other side of the yard, where former flower child-turned painter and grandmother Susan Hannes lives, the breeze stirred “Biden 2020” flags near a sign that said “Black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, science is real, love is love, no matter your faith or ability kindness is everything.”

After protests and violence erupted in Kenosha, the competing messages on the front lawns have forced the longtime neighbors — who avoided talking politics for years — to confront political and ideological divisions roiling this crucial swing state and the country. At one point recently they, too, inevitably, clashed.

Kenosha natives Susan and Dick Hannes unfurl flags supporting Joe Biden this week on their porch in the city’s Harbor Side neighborhood.

(Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

The Morgans and the Hanneses live in a moment of reckoning. They are not on the front lines of protests featured on the nightly news. But they have their fears, angers and resentments. And like millions of Americans, they are digging in and clinging to their politics even as they acknowledge they must live side-by-side ahead of what is certain to be one of the most bruising elections in the country’s history.

“I don’t talk politics with her at all,” Susan Hannes said of Morgan. “I just don’t want to get into any kind of confrontations with her.”

Morgan, 69, moved back to Kenosha six years ago from a nearby town to live on Lake Michigan. A retired office manager, grandmother and poll worker, she wears her strawberry blonde hair cut short and prefers casual tank tops and sneakers. She’s been a Trump fan since before the election in 2016, undeterred by his rhetoric, tweets and “locker room talk.” That’s when she put up her first, homemade Trump signs, near her garden of Dahlias, marigolds, geraniums and moss roses. The signs were stolen and she got harassed by protesters in the nearby park and stopped replacing them.

Last month, though, she visited a Trump campaign office and picked up new signs to add to her leftover July Fourth decorations.

“I regained courage,” she said.

Mary Morgan wasn’t political for years but supported Trump before he was elected in 2016. Last month, she installed new Trump signs and a flag. “I regained courage,” Morgan said.

(Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

Passing drivers still curse and flip her the bird when she’s on the lawn. Morgan finds relief in Trump supporters who stop to talk, strangers who thank her for her passion for the combative 45th president. They call her “a bright spot.” When her Trump/Pence sign disappeared last month, a neighbor around the corner brought her a replacement. It got stolen again last week.

“They don’t take the Biden ones,” Morgan said as she sat in a pink lawn chair with her dog Charlie, a caramel-colored schnauzer mix, at her feet, waving to neighbors and explaining why she backs Trump more strongly than ever, tweets and all, because of the protests and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He’s been out front,” she said. “He’s handled it well.”

When the president came to town this week, Morgan — who calls herself a “never masker” — went to see the motorcade. Later, she held a watch party at her house. Her son and ex-husband are former police officers, and the recent antipolice brutality protests a few streets away following the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by police on Aug. 23 scared her.

Mary Morgan and her neighbors both like to garden, and have added not just political signs but also lawn ornaments.

(Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

“These poor police, they have no desire to shoot somebody. When they get up in the morning, all they want to do is to come home to their families,” she said, noting a police officer friend was fatally shot in the line of duty.

Trump has said he wanted to send the National Guard to Kenosha but local officials resisted, and Morgan faults the Democratic governor and mayor for not listening.

“It was frightening to be down here, to hear the helicopters and see the smoke. The police were overwhelmed,” she said. “You could smell the tear gas and hear the cars exploding. All of this could have been avoided.”

Morgan said she’s troubled to see people judge the Blake shooting based on a 20-second video. She sees Kyle Rittenhouse, a white Illinois 17-year-old charged with shooting and killing two protesters, as a defender of local businesses. Her 20 year-old granddaughter — working at a gas station near the protests — was called a racist, and had a window broken during the melee and her car totaled.

Morgan’s son and daughter pleaded with her to leave the neighborhood at the height of the conflict, but she’s a gun owner, and stood her ground.

“Every window that was broken, every building that burned, is a vote for Trump,” she said.

Her daughter, who voted for Obama, is now a Trump supporter, she said, “because of the riots.” Morgan’s trying to persuade her granddaughter, who’s also liberal, to vote for Trump, too. Morgan doesn’t see America as prejudiced, and can’t understand why her neighbors or other white Kenoshans support Black Lives Matter.

“What is it about our country that they don’t like? Why is the white percentage of Black Lives Matter so big? What is it that drives their anger? What is systemic racism?” she said.

That anyone could ask such questions baffles Morgan’s neighbors, Susan and Dick Hannes. Susan said the nation is in desperate need of fixing and that “it gives me hope” to see Blacks and whites protesting together against racism.

“I just can’t understand all the violence and the hate — it’s Trump’s America,” she said as she sat on her porch. As the couple discussed their views Friday, one stranger spotted their signs, beeped and waved at them. Another driver shouted her displeasure with Biden. “I don’t know why people can’t just respect.”

The couple posted a Black Lives Matter sign because it summed up their beliefs. They added the Biden flags after Morgan planted hers. They also added a mask to the concrete cat statue in their garden, a counterpoint to Morgan’s bear.

Dick Hannes retired after a career working for automakers and the autoworkers’ union, while his wife of 55 years, Susan, is a painter whose work fills her home studio.

(Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

Married 55 years this month, the Hanneses were just as scared by recent violence as was Morgan. Richard Hannes voted Republican until Reagan ran for reelection in 1984. But they sympathized with Jacob Blake’s family and the larger Black community. They were heartened to see Joe Biden meet with the Blake family when he visited Kenosha Thursday and condemn violence by Rittenhouse and other vigilantes.

“Somehow, we have to get along, even if we don’t agree with each other,” Dick Hannes said.

Like Morgan, Dick Hannes, 79, a U.S. Army and National Guard veteran who worked most of his career for Chrysler and the United Auto Workers union, is a gun owner, but his are packed away somewhere in the basement. When protests erupted, he went out and brought a different kind of protection: A fire extinguisher. Their son, a Kenosha fire battalion chief, was out battling blazes that consumed dozens of local businesses. Some of their other children pleaded with them to leave, just as Morgan’s did, but they were not abandoning their home of 25 years.

Dick Hannes— who regularly wears a mask and doesn’t go to protests because he fears COVID-19 — has researched hate groups and the country’s growing economic disparities, and tries to discuss them with conservative childhood friends and golf buddies — “throwing darts” he calls it. But he said they quickly shut down conversations.

“They don’t want to hear it,” he said as he sat on the porch in his slippers.

The Hannes and Morgan homes on Kenosha’s Third Avenue sport opposing signs and flags: One household supports Trump, the other Biden.

(Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

The couple worry that the country is so tense, so divided and armed, that the upcoming election could spark a civil war, especially with militias in the streets from Portland to Minneapolis.

“If Trump is elected, we will become a fascist dictatorship,” said Dick Hannes.

Sitting across from him in flowing skirt and blouse secured with a seashell, his wife grimaced.

“I fear for our country,” she said.

But there’s another possible future they hope for, one where Americans, despite their political differences, get along.

Last month, when Hannes first noticed Morgan’s new Trump sign and flag, they were planted close to the property line. Soon, Hannes and her husband started to receive complaints from neighbors and passing drivers who thought they were the Trump supporters.

“Technically, the flag was waving on our property,” Dick Hannes said.

So his wife went next door to ask Morgan to move the sign and flag back.

At first, Morgan refused.

“It’s my property — I can do what I want,” she thought.

Hannes was disappointed, but ready to accept her decision.

“I really believe in our democracy. I respect that we all have a right to support whoever we want,” she said.

Morgan thought about how, despite their political differences, the neighbors frequently relied on each other. In the summer, they conferred about plantings. In the winter, they shoveled each other’s sidewalks. When Morgan had a bat infestation and asked to pitch a tent in their yard to sleep, the Hanneses urged her to stay in their studio.

And so, she changed her mind.

Before leaving the yard, Morgan agreed to move the sign and flag farther back, “because we’re friends.” Hannes thanked her.