Updated at 3:45 p.m. — Hours before President Donald Trump was expected to call for changes to the federal tax code that he claims will boost the nation’s economy, protesters gathered outside of the St. Charles Convention Center.
Nearly 100 people who oppose the president and his policies held signs that read “LIAR” and chanted slogans like “Save America, Impeach Trump.” There were clashes between people who came to support the president and those who oppose him.
But the dominant message on St. Charles streets was that Trump’s presidency has been bad for the nation, particularly members of minority groups.
Christie Dean, of St. Peters, said she came to decry Trump’s behavior and harsh rhetoric, which protesters outside the convention center say has sparked a wave of hostility against immigrants and refugees, minorities and transgender people.
“I am here because I want it known that a fascist is not welcome in my town,” said Dean, who brought along her two children. “My kids know who Trump is and that they are not allowed to behave like him."
“America is greater than this," said Dean.
She also criticized the tax plan Trump and Republican leaders in Congress claim will have widespread benefits.
“The tax plan is criminal,” Dean said. “It’s a lie that giving tax breaks to corporations will amount in higher wages and more jobs.”
Supporters of the president were quick to counter that characterization.
Dallas Vick, a Vietnam veteran who came to the convention center with his dog, Tyson, said he was very concerned about veterans’ benefits.
“I thought Obama was going to take away the Veterans’ hospital,” Vick said of Trump’s Democratic predecessor. Since assuming the presidency nearly a year ago, Trump has sought to overturn many of Obama’s measures.
But Vick also spoke to the nation’s partisan divide, one in which many people have an intense distrust of the opposite political party.
“The No. 1 thing is that nobody’s a bigger liar than Hillary and Bill,” Vick said of Trump’s Democratic opponent and former President Clinton. “And I haven’t seen Trump lie yet.”
Much of the activity in St. Charles is emotionally charged.
Anti-Trump protesters chanted many of the messages they have used during protests against police behavior — “When black lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up. Fight Back” “United we stand, divided we fall.”
In response, supporters of the president tried to get their message heard.
“My president!” yelled Sandra Mutert.
Mutert said two of her children are police officers.
“He is my president and I always support him,” she said of Trump. “I support him for change — or the economy for all people not just the middle class or the poor.”
When confrontations between competing protesters became heated, police officers stepped in to defuse them.
The prevailing message came from Thomas Payton, a retired St. Louis firefighter.
“I am here to support the youth,” said Payton, who is black. “I’m in opposition to a system that’s set up against people who look like me.”
But the opportunity for at least some dialogue wasn't entirely lost.
In the middle of a crowd of chanting and heated arguments, Cat Daniels, who is black and opposes Trump, quietly initiated one-on-one conversations with a number of Trump supporters.
“I’m here because I wanted to talk to people. I want to bridge gaps. All the ugliness? I’m not here for that,” Daniels said as she spoke with Susie Brown, a Trump supporter.
Brown, who is white, lives near the convention center and was excited to see the president’s motorcade as it passed by.
“I think Trump can do great if we give him a chance,” Brown said. “I have faith that God picks the president for a reason.”
The two talked intently for about 30 minutes. Daniels pulled out her phone to show pictures of her children to Brown.
Daniels explained that she especially worries for her sons. Brown nodded, keeping eye contact with her.
Though they didn’t change their different opinions of the president, Daniels invited Brown to join her as she cooks and delivers meals for neighbors who need them on Thursday.
After they exchanged numbers, Brown promised to come along.
“God answered my prayers in bringing you out here today, Cat,” Brown said as she entered Daniels number in her phone.
“I can see you’re not a hateful person,” Daniels responded. “And it’s cool that you are actually standing here talking to me. It’s pretty dope.”
Follow Brit on Twitter: @bnhanson