How Nebraska Became a Republican Stronghold
After Ross Benes left Nebraska for New York, he witnessed his polite home state become synonymous with “Trump country.” Long dismissed as “flyover” land, the area where he was born and raised suddenly became the subject of TV features and frequent opinion columns. With the rural-urban divide overtaking the national conversation, Benes knew what he had to do: go home.
In Rural Rebellion, Benes explores Nebraska’s shifting political landscape to better understand what’s plaguing America. He clarifies how Nebraska defies red-state stereotypes while offering readers insights into how a frontier state with a tradition of nonpartisanship succumbed to the hardened right. Extensive interviews with US senators, representatives, governors, state lawmakers, and other power brokers illustrate how local disputes over health-care coverage and education funding became microcosms for our current national crisis.
“A quick and enjoyable read, written with a light touch.”
—Front Porch Republic
“Rural Rebellion is informative whether or not you agree with the author’s political views. . . . Benes does a good job connecting past and present, and he asks many of the questions that historians are likely to ask when they look back on the early twenty-first century.”
—Nebraska HistorySee all reviews...
“An insightful and useful book. Benes is a splendid writer who has added prodigious research to his personal experiences to help readers understand how Nebraska (and by extension other red states) became a Republican stronghold.”
“At a time when social and political differences tend to be portrayed in stark binary terms, Ross Benes adds depth to our understanding of rural Americans’ attitudes about abortion, immigration, big government, and other issues of contention. And while Nebraska shares plenty of cultural and geographic characteristics with its neighbors, Benes suggests that each state in this often-stereotyped region has its own story to tell. Folks who don’t have relatives and friends in Nebraska can thank Benes for lending us his.”
—C.J. Janovy, author of No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas
“Raised as I was in Kansas, I’ve entertained theories of how my neighboring state—where Willa Cather once lived and Warren Buffett still lives—became such a bastion of Trump support. This engaging book by a writer who knows Nebraska firsthand explains why, and in so doing enriches our understanding of rural America.”
—Robert Wuthnow, Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52 Professor of Sociology, Princeton University
“Ross writes interesting sentences and takes stories down paths the reader wouldnt or couldn’t travel without him. He knows this Nebraska because he’s lived it and processed it, as a kid,a wannabe rock star,a college student, a football fan, a social scientist, and more. Now he translates it, and he does it all with an intellect that forces us to rethink our suppositions about each other. A great read no matter where you are on the rural-urban or red-blue divides.”
—Scott Winter, associate professor of journalism, Bethel University, and author of Nebrasketball: Coach Tim Miles and a Big Ten Team on the Rise
“In Rural Rebellion, Ross Benes provides a deeply personal look at how the Nebraska we both know and love has taken a hard right turn over the past quarter century, turning the state and its neighbors in flyover country into a no-fly zone for Democrats. How Nebraska went from being a notoriously independent and bipartisan state into a place governed by the most conservative elements of a conservative party is a complete mystery to most liberals—and one that Benes decodes adroitly. Must reading for anyone who wants to know how we got where we are and how to chart a roadmap out of the great divide in American politics.”
—Jack Todd, author of Sun Going Down: A Novel
“This is a story of a young man trying to make sense of both his past and present—how the place he came from shaped him and why that place ceased to exist. This is more than a coming-of-age story, more than a nostalgic look back to a simpler time when we know that no time was ever simple. With Rural Rebellion, Ross Benes does the impossible: combines an honest personal narrative with extensive reporting and research, making it an invaluable resource to all of us who look at the country and ask, “Why?” This book does more than explain Benes, more than explain Nebraska. It helps us understand modern America.”
—Sridhar Pappu, author of The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age
“Written with deep insight and a keen appreciation for how politics unfolds through specific stories, this book is indispensable for anyone trying to understand how American politics got to be so profoundly divided along overlapping lines of partisanship and geography. At the same time, Benes’s Nebraska roots lend the narrative an empathy that distinguishes this book from so many others. This book reminds us that our problems aren’t fundamentally about other Americans—they are about a politics that pushes us into incompatible camps.”
—Daniel Hopkins, professor of political science, University of PennsylvaniaSee fewer reviews...
Rural Rebellion is also the story of one man coming to terms with both his past and present. Benes writes about the dissonance of moving from the most rural and conservative region of the country to its most liberal and urban centers as they grow further apart at a critical moment in history. He seeks to bridge Americas current political divides by contrasting the conservative values he learned growing up in a town of three hundred with those of his liberal acquaintances in New York City, where he now lives.
At a time when social and political differences are too often portrayed in stark binary terms, and people in the Trump-supporting heartland are depicted in reductive, one-dimensional ways, Benes tells real-life stories to add depth and nuance to our understanding of rural Americans’ attitudes about abortion, immigration, big government, and other contentious issues. His argument and conclusion are simple but powerful: that Americans in disparate places would be less hostile to one another if they just knew each other a little better. Part memoir, journalism, and social science, Rural Rebellion is a book for our times.