Rural Rebellion

How Nebraska Became a Republican Stronghold

Ross Benes

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.

“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

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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.

About the Author

Ross Benes is the award-winning author of three books. He has written for Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Lincoln Journal Star, Nation, Omaha World-Herald, Rolling Stone, Wall Street Journal, and more. A native of Brainard, Nebraska, he now cheers on the Huskers from New York.