In his recently released book “Rural Rebellion: How Nebraska Became a Republican Stronghold,” University of Nebraska-Lincoln alumnus and writer Ross Benes explores the historical political climate of Nebraska and its shift to the far right. Benes uses his own experiences of moving from Brainard, Nebraska, to New York City to explain how his own views have changed and to compare both extremes of the political scale.
“What I wanted to look at was why Nebraska, a state that, when I was born was relatively bipartisan, that elected Democrats and Republicans to basically all positions, now basically only elects Republicans and those who are far-right,” Benes said. “There’s a lot of attention on these states now with Donald Trump having become president, but these states helped enable his rise. I want to tell that story, but also from a personal point of view.”
This book — which is a far departure from his pop culture books such as “Sex Weird-o-Pedia” and “Turned On” — was inspired by his own experiences witnessing other people’s increased curiosity about Nebraska culture after the 2016 election. To him, his hometown life was normal, but to others in New York City, where he lives now, his Nebraskan heritage became increasingly interesting.
“It was seeing a change in their curiosity,” Benes said. “They used to not be so curious that I was from Nebraska, it was more like a biographical fact. After Trump got elected, it was more like ‘Ross is from Nebraska, I’m going to keep asking him about that. What’s it like there?’ After I would be talking about my experiences in this state thinking I wasn’t sharing anything new, I had enough long conversations about that to where people were like, ‘you should really write a book about that.’”
Benes’s research abilities and his unique life perspectives make this book a logical step for Benes, according to Jordan Behrens. As his college roommate and friend, Behrens has been able to witness Benes’ qualities for thirteen years.
“He was always sort of a unique mind,” Behrens said. “He always had unique perspectives on things and he always seemed like he had the nack to explore. The research he does is incredible, and I could see that just off of watching him go through an article or something like that. He always had the brain for it.”
Benes said the memoir aspect and personal point of view were important to him while writing “Rural Rebellion.” He expressed the value in this story being told by a native Nebraskan to showcase the less extreme version of Nebraska conservatives.
“Whenever some national news source does a story, they tend to find the guy who’s wearing army fatigues at the county fair to be their spokesperson,” Benes said. “I wanted to talk about people who are in my family who are Trump voters, who don’t even know what QAnon is. There’s this effort right now to brandish all 70 plus million Trump voters in the same way, and I wanted to show that things are more complicated than they seem.”
Benes said it’s this contrast between the good-hearted Nebraskans he knew as a kid who developed these harsh, radical stereotypes he wanted to explore. He wanted answers as to why and how this happened.
“I think Nebraskans are like the nicest people and overly good, for the most part,” Benes said. “And this state of good, friendly people — what led them to go so far right and so loyal to Republicans that they would embrace someone like Donald Trump without much resistance or question. What happened there?”
The perspective Benes provides in this book — the contrast between rural and urban experiences — is one Behrens said he finds valuable. Being from Omaha, Behrens said he never got the total rural Nebraska experience, but through “Rural Rebellion” he was able to learn more.
“I’m 30 years old, and I’ve lived in Nebraska my whole life, but I didn’t know this perspective,” Behrens said. “I didn’t know what it looked like from the small towns out West.”
For those who aren’t from Nebraska, Benes said he hopes through reading “Rural Rebellion,” they grow in their understanding of how your environment can shape your political views. For those native to his home state, Benes said he hopes native Nebraskans are able to realize where Nebraska politics used to stand, where they are now, and how quickly things changed in a span of 30 years.
“If you’re from Nebraska, I think you’ll learn a lot about Nebraska history as well as why our politics have changed so much,” Benes said.