Drake Custer is a union man who, along with about 30 of his buddies, had an Old English “K” tattooed on their chests about 15 years ago. It stands for “Keokuk”, a deflated Mississippi River manufacturing town of 10,000 tucked into the south-east corner of Iowa that Washington and Des Moines forgot.
“We know who we are,” said Custer.
They make syrup from corn starch, steel wheels and rubber seals at an average wage of $18 per hour. People keep leaving in search of something better – in 1960, the town was 60% bigger. It’s the story of the midwest, decline and depopulation, frustration and anxiety.
“A lot of voters wanted to believe Trump – that out there in Washington it’s all BS, and that a savvy businessman could straighten it out,” Custer said.
It’s hard for many to admit that it didn’t work out. A tragic comedy of lawlessness mixed with buffoonery nears its epilogue.
About 10 of those 30 branded Keokuk men voted for Donald Trump. This year, Custer figures maybe five of them will.
“The vibe is: a lot of people figured out that the boss isn’t worried about them. My veteran friends, they don’t like what’s going on. They’re looking for leadership in government and the workplace. Really, everybody is.”
Folks from Milwaukee to Muskegon were having their misgivings before the pandemic shut us down in March. Trade wars with China, Mexico, Canada and Europe knocked the wind out of steel wheels and soybean prices. Workers at John Deere, the huge tractor builder, were getting pink slips in Davenport. Ethanol plants were idled. Farmers in north-west Iowa’s Sioux county, where Trump took 90% of the vote, said last fall they would not vote for him again. The Iowa Corn Growers proclaimed they were “fed up” after Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency allowed 31 petroleum refineries to shun ethanol blending requirements. Ethanol comes from corn. Corn is a religious totem in these parts.
Trump’s approval ratings sank underwater in key midwestern swing states he won: Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. Any number of polls showed Trump and Joe Biden in a dead heat in about a dozen purple states, or with Biden in a comfortable lead. Bluster and blunder were coming home to roost.
Then the pandemic that Trump ignored hit and the bottom dropped out.
Corn prices dived 19% since January. Meatpacking plants are exploding with the coronavirus – 60% of the pork plant workers in Perry, Iowa, are infected. The sheriff for Waterloo, Iowa, said he wanted to stomp a boot on Tyson’s plant. The mayor of Sioux Falls argued with the South Dakota governor to shut down a Smithfield pork facility overrun with the virus. About 65% of people polled think folks should…