It's not often you get a chance to come face-to-face with that person who made a nasty comment about you on Facebook. But one interviewee from our Kitchen Table Series got a chance to do that.
Jamie Ruppert of White Haven, Pa. was featured in a story that aired in January.
She's a swing voter and like much of Luzerne County, where she lives, Ruppert switched from voting Democratic in the past to casting her ballot for Trump in 2016.
When the story was posted on NPR's Facebook page it received more than 6000 comments. The underlying theme from Rupper's critics was that she had been duped into voting from Trump.
We reached out to 10 people on Facebook who posted nasty comments directed at Ruppert. Only two responded. One of them happens to live in the next county over from Ruppert.
Amy Whitenight, of Bloomsburg, Pa., posted this comment:
"Yeah, I was a little angry at the time," says Whitenight. She says that was right before Trump's inauguration. If she commented now, Whitenight says, "It probably wouldn't have been so angry."
Ruppert calls Whitenight's comment "hurtful" and says, "She's basing my intelligence off of one decision. That's just ... so judgmental and very unfair."
Whitenight agreed to meet with Ruppert face-to-face for a conversation.
It turns out the two have a lot in common. They grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, are in their 30s, they're nurses (Whitenight is a registered nurse and Ruppert is a licensed practical nurse) and they're moms.
Both Ruppert and Whitenight voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. But in 2016 Whitenight chose Hillary Clinton and Ruppert chose Donald Trump.
"I feel like Trump supporters have gone and voted for Donald Trump for the pretty packaging. They are seduced by his words," says Whitenight. She also believes Trump voters aren't aware of the consequences of the president's policies.
Whitenight points to Trump's recent travel ban on immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries. She says news of that affected an Indian colleague at the hospital where she works.
"He had his daughter come up to him and she was afraid that people were going to hurt her and think she was Muslim," says Whitenight.
Ruppert thinks the parent should assure the child that she is safe. And she says, "People are making mass panic where there doesn't need to be mass panic."
Responding to the claim that Trump voters didn't understand the consequences of their vote, Ruppert says she knew what she was getting with Trump. She liked that he talked about stricter immigration policies and bringing blue-collar jobs back to the U.S.
"I was tired of not seeing Americans come first," says Ruppert.
As we sit down to figure out why these two people with so many similarities voted differently, the conversation turns into a debate over welfare programs. Both women have benefited from them.
Whitenight says as a single mom she needed help while in school studying to be a registered nurse. And she says programs have helped her friends too.
"They now have college degrees. They are now considered middle class, so, I think that's a good thing," says Whitenight.
"But you took the system and you bettered yourself," says Ruppert who counters that not everyone does that.
"There are career welfare people," says Ruppert.
Whitenight responds, "I'm always flabbergasted that people are so upset by helping people and feeding people and make sure people have housing."
"You're right, there's nothing wrong with helping people who want to be helped," says Ruppert. But she objects to helping people who are "just walking around with their hand out."
The direction of the conversation prompts Whitenight to ask, "Why do you let other people's situations bother you so much?" She points out that only a small portion of tax dollars go to welfare programs.
This conversation was important because it uncovered an experience Ruppert had a few years back that appears to have played a big role in her decision to vote for Trump. At the time she lived in a rough neighborhood of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
"I had two white guys pull up in front of my house, start shooting up heroin at 5 o'clock in the afternoon," says Ruppert.
At the time Ruppert says her family was struggling financially. There was a subsidized apartment building nearby that attracted crime and drug-dealing. Ruppert says she saw people driving away in nice cars and it upset her that people who broke the rules appeared to be doing well.
At the end of our conversation Ruppert concludes that she voted for Trump because she's fed up with the current state of the country. She believes Whitenight voted for Clinton because she's afraid of Trump.
Whitenight agrees, but adds that they're both afraid — just of different things.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
After Donald Trump's election, we spoke with a woman near Wilkes-Barre, Pa. And like many of her neighbors, Jamie Ruppert voted Democratic in the past, but this time she picked Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
JAMIE RUPPERT: The majority of the things that he wanted to do, as far as tax cuts and helping the failing middle class, is what kind of got me behind him.
SIMON: After that story aired, critics ripped into Jamie Ruppert on social media platforms. NPR's Jeff Brady brought her and one of her critics together for a conversation.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: We reached out to 10 people on Facebook who had nasty comments for Jamie Ruppert. Only two responded. One of them happens to live in the next county over from Jamie, and she agreed to meet us at a local hotel. Walking down the hallway, I ask Jamie how she feels about the meeting.
RUPPERT: I won't lie. I'm a little nervous. You know, I'm meeting somebody new with opposing views as you. You don't even know - a lot of times when you meet somebody new, you don't even know what they think or whatever about you. But I already know, so it's a little - a little scary (laughter). I won't lie.
BRADY: All right, here we go.
BRADY: So Jamie...
RUPPERT: There's cookies (unintelligible).
BRADY: Oh, yes, we brought cookies (laughter). Jamie Ruppert, Amy Whitenight.
AMY WHITENIGHT: Nice to meet you.
RUPPERT: Hi, nice to meet you.
BRADY: The first thing you notice about Amy Whitenight is her bright pink hair. Beyond that, the two women have a lot in common. Both grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania. They're in their 30s. Both are nurses and they're moms. Historically they voted for Democrats, but this time Amy chose Hillary Clinton and Jamie chose Donald Trump. As the conversation starts, I ask Amy to read her Facebook comment that was directed at Jamie.
WHITENIGHT: (Reading) The only good thing about Trump getting elected is that idiots like this will get a big kick in the ass. The bad part is we will all have to suffer along with these unintelligent Trump supporters.
BRADY: OK. Do you still feel that same way?
WHITENIGHT: Yeah, a little bit.
BRADY: The two were sitting next to each other on a couch. I ask Jamie how it feels to hear this in person.
RUPPERT: Well, it's hurtful. I mean, she doesn't even know me. She's basing my intelligence off of one decision. You know, that's, like, just being so judgmental and very unfair.
BRADY: Amy says that Facebook comment was written just about a week before Trump's inauguration. She's mellowed a bit but is still pretty angry.
WHITENIGHT: I feel like Trump supporters have gone and voted for Donald Trump for the pretty packaging. They are seduced by his words, and they don't think about the big picture and how all of his policies will affect everyone and everything.
BRADY: Jamie tells Amy that she couldn't support Clinton because she didn't trust her. Jamie liked that Trump promised stricter immigration policies and more blue-collar jobs.
RUPPERT: I was tired of not seeing Americans come first, the people who are here and who pay into the whole thing as a whole. I was tired of them being pushed aside for people who maybe aren't so deserving of what they're getting.
BRADY: The conversation quickly turns to social service programs. Both women have benefited from them. Amy says as a single mom, she needed help while in school studying to be a registered nurse.
WHITENIGHT: I know that it's helped me and it's helped others that I am friends with. They now have college degrees. They are now in - considered middle class. So, I mean, I think that's a good thing.
RUPPERT: But you took the system and you bettered yourself. There are people who don't do that. I have had personal friends who are still on welfare, who are still getting section 8, who are still getting food stamps and not trying to do anything with their lives. There are career welfare people.
BRADY: Any response to that?
WHITENIGHT: I guess I just find it - I'm always flabbergasted that people are so upset by helping people and feeding people and make sure people have housing.
RUPPERT: You're right. There's nothing wrong with helping people, helping people who want to be helped and not are just walking around with their handout.
WHITENIGHT: Why do you let other people's situations bother you so much? Like, it's not really affecting you because, I mean, really, if you go and do the research on it, you're not paying - that much money of your taxes isn't going to social programs. It's going to everything else.
BRADY: As the conversation continues, it becomes clear that Jamie had an experience a few years back that played a big role in her decision to vote for Trump. She lived in Wilkes-Barre in a rough neighborhood.
RUPPERT: I had two white guys pull up in front of my house, start shooting up heroin 5 o'clock in the afternoon during the summer - broad daylight.
BRADY: Jamie says her family was struggling financially. There was a subsidized apartment building nearby that attracted crime and drug dealing. Jamie says she saw people driving away in nice cars. It upset her that people who broke the rules appeared to be doing well. At the end of our conversation, we concluded that Jamie Ruppert voted for Trump because she's fed up. Amy Whitenight voted for Clinton because she's afraid of Trump. Amy also observes that they were both afraid, just of different things. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.