Most articles about why people vote for Donald Trump get their answers from two places: polls, with no follow-up questions but lots of speculation as to the “real meaning”; and rallies, where reporters interview the die-hards. Trump fans are rarely covered in the regions where their candidate has the most support. To remedy that, my collaborator Umar Lee and I drove to Metropolis, IL, the official home of Superman, now decimated by economic ruin — and a Trump stronghold. Here is what we found:
In the center of Metropolis, Illinois, a town of 6,465 people bordering Kentucky, is a giant statue of Superman. Below the statue of Superman is an inscription: “Truth – Justice – the American Way”.
Once a thriving blue-collar industrial center, Metropolis has been decimated by factory closures, the 2008 financial collapse and concerns over air and water contamination from the Honeywell uranium plant. Its community has lost faith in truth and justice. But they are seeking a new American way, and they believe they have found it in another strongman: Donald Trump.
Metropolis – selected by DC Comics in 1972 as the official hometown of Superman – is the seat of Massac County. On 15 March, Trump swept the Massac Republican primary with 44% of the vote.
Signs for Trump are everywhere. They are in the balconies of boarded buildings with shattered windows in the decaying town square. They are in front of the trailers where residents moved after they lost their homes during the 2008 mortgage crisis. They dot the roads to Harrah’s casino, the biggest business in Metropolis, where locals spend what little they have left in the hope of getting more.
A county plaque in the historic district explains that Massac is short for “Massacre” because “its citizens [were] nicknamed ‘massacrers’, for sometimes being the rowdy remnants of the early days of the Fort”. The Fort was built in 1757, but Metropolis residents are no happier today. They are furious with politicians and overwhelmed by financial despair. Superman brings the town tourists, but he cannot save residents from the pain of everyday life. But maybe, they say, Trump can.
“The government gives the companies breaks but not enough to keep jobs here,” explains Edward “Catfish” Kuhn. “Trump hit the nail on the head with the illegal alien issue. Maybe now they’ll move those jobs back.”
Kuhn has lived in Metropolis since 1983. He got the nickname “Catfish” because he used to be a champion fisherman, but he cannot fish much any more: the local river was contaminated by the uranium plant. Fish are not all that died in Metropolis. Kuhn used to work at Goodyear, but like many big companies in southern Illinois, it closed.
When we met Kuhn, he was selling what he claimed to be meteorites at the bar of Harrah’s casino. It’s how he makes a living these days, he explained.