The disappointed filled First Niagara Center on Monday, and they filled it with hope.
Finally, they said, someone is listening. Finally, a nonpolitician – not like that guy in the White House, and Lord knows, not like Hillary Clinton.
Finally, someone who seems to know what it’s like to see your job move overseas, or to see your cousin get hooked on heroin, or to see foreigners getting all the breaks.
Finally, someone who will make America the way it was.
Finally, they said, he’s here, the savior who can stop it all: Donald J. Trump.
The lion-maned billionaire took to the stage at 7:35 p.m. and did what he always does. He ranted and raved and ad-libbed and joked and promised, over and over again, to make America great again.
But the stories that made him the Republican presidential front-runner were not the stories he tells.
The stories that matter in this GOP campaign are stories like the one Karen Evarts tells.
“We all lost our jobs the minute (President Bill) Clinton signed that free-trade agreement,” said Evarts, 59, of Olcott. “The ink wasn’t dry on that agreement before they came and told us they were closing the plant.”
That happened to Evarts and her husband, Jim, more than 20 years ago, after President Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Suddenly, their good, steady jobs at Occidental Chemical in Niagara Falls were gone.
“We lost our home. We lost everything,” Karen Evarts recalled.
The same thing happened to friends and relatives, she said. Some moved away, their lives shattered.
Evarts and her husband went back to school and rebuilt their lives and started their own boat-repair business. But looking around, Evarts sees a country that needs to be rebuilt. And she sees the man who will rebuild it.
“I just think he has the expertise to create jobs and make America great again,” she said.
A few feet away in First Niagara Center, Dominic Schiraldi of Williamsville told a much different story.
At 17, he won’t be old enough to vote in November’s election. But he wishes he could, because he thinks Trump can stop the suffering he sees.
“I love him because he can build that wall and stop all this crack and heroin from destroying this country,” Dominic said.
The heroin epidemic is something Dominic knows too well. He says he has a cousin who is an addict, and he has a friend who was wounded in a shooting when she got between two drug dealers.
All those drugs come through Mexico, Schiraldi said, so Trump is right. Build that wall.
For some, though, the wall will come too late. They already live in a country they don’t recognize.
Liz Greco, 62, of East Aurora, used to be a Democrat – before they became what she calls “the giveaway party.”
“You can’t stick with a party that helps all the wrong people,” she said. “When you give illegal immigrants better benefits than our veterans get, that’s a problem. We’re giving them food stamps and all these goodies. That’s a problem.”
In fact, it isn’t a problem.
“Social welfare programs bar illegal immigrants from receiving benefits and require proof of immigration status,” PolitiFact, the fact-checking news service, said in reviewing Internet rumors on the subject in 2012. “That includes food stamps, as well as cash welfare assistance, Medicaid, and even the new health care law.”
Still, Greco and her husband, Steve, say they support Trump because he promises an America they remember, where jobs went to Americans and not immigrants and where people like Steve Greco – a retired Buffalo police detective – were respected for their work.
“Donald Trump is sticking up for the police,” said Greco, 70, who bemoaned the fact that cellphones can record what police do these days. “They bait you into hitting them,” Greco said of these modern-day cellphone-toting criminals.
Not far away, Nate Cianciola of Rochester talked about his long political progression from Bill Clinton voter to Donald Trump supporter.
Clinton was good for the economy, Cianciola said, but he started cutting the military, and as a Navy veteran, that bothered him.
That started a political progression rightward, helped along by the likes of right-wing radio stars like Michael Savage and Sean Hannity.
Now, Cianciola rages about Obamacare, saying it forced him to change to a more expensive health care plan, and he speaks of Hillary Clinton with disdain.
“She’s a bought-and-paid-for politician,” said Cianiola, 59. “Just look at the money she takes from the super PACs. And she’s facing FBI investigation. That’s not the kind of thing we want in the White House.”
What we want, Cianciola said, is Trump.
“I want to see class in the White House,” he said. “Donald Trump is an outsider. He’s a successful businessman. He has a passion for America. He wants to help the economy and bring jobs back.”
Of course a lot of politicians make such promises, but Cianciola said one thing sets Trump apart. “He’s not bought and paid for,” Cianciola added.