Veblen’s America

Veblen’s America

The Conspicuous Case of Donald J. Trump

By Sidney Plotkin

‘Veblen’s America’ examines the astonishing political rise of Donald Trump through the portal of Thorstein Veblen’s theory of barbaric legacies in American development.

EPUB, 344 Pages


December 2018

£18.36, $30.36

PDF, 344 Pages


December 2018

£18.36, $30.36

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About This Book

The astonishing political rise of Donald Trump sent seasoned observers scurrying for clues and explanations. How did Trump happen? Of course no one guide will suffice, but a surprisingly helpful one, suggests Sidney Plotkin, is the early twentieth-century American radical, Thorstein Veblen. In remarkably vivid ways, Veblen understood the enduring American allure of figures such as Trump. [NP] As Plotkin shows in “Veblen’s America,” Trump’s booming persona springs noisily out the country-town hucksterism that Veblen sardonically depicted, its fabulist habits fitting Trump’s “truthful hyperbole” to a tee. But Veblen saw darker, more ominous forces in American life too––habits of barbaric violence, misogyny and xenophobia––forces that foreshadowed Trump’s appeal to what Veblen called a deep “sclerosis of the American soul.” New Deal liberalism helped mute the strains, but economic crisis and the neoliberal response aggravated them. Donald Trump’s appeal to hate made their revival unmistakable.

To shape the study, Plotkin introduces readers to Veblen’s critical institutional theory and its application to both the American case generally and to the Trump family story in particular. With Veblen as foundation, he examines three generations of Trumps as they engage the forces of American development: Friedrich Trump, the hard-scrabble immigrant grandfather, on the make in the gold mining towns of the Pacific Northwest; Fred Trump, the father, who showed the way in using the loose rules of American housing policy to become a captain of local industry; and Donald J. Trump himself, who, having first burst onto the New York City scene as a burgeoning celebrity entrepreneur of the neoliberal era, then turned against neoliberal globalism, proclaiming himself the one and only savior of working-class America. As Plotkin shows, Trump’s poisonous ascendancy exposed a barbaric malevolence that has long torn at the fabric of American democracy and its aspirations for equality.


“One of the world’s leading Veblen scholars has done it again. Sidney Plotkin’s Veblen’s America provides an insightful and brilliant analysis that exposes Trump’s rural ‘country town’ appeal as an expression of the deep red barbaric strand in American political culture, its racism, misogyny and inflamed nationalism. This book is a must-read.”
—Bill Scheuerman, Professor Emeritus, SUNY, USA

“A powerful and unique book: Trump’s presidency is Veblen’s dystopia. Using Veblen’s insight into the competitive thrust of pecuniary culture, Plotkin shows that Trumpism is not a deviation from the arc of US history, but a continuation of its trajectory.”
—William M. Dugger, Senior Scholar, Global Political Economy Research Unit, and Professor of Economics, University of Tulsa, USA

“Sidney Plotkin, one of the most erudite disciples of Veblen, provides a compelling account of America’s astonishing reversion to illiberalism under the presidency of Donald Trump. This is a must-read for anyone concerned about the rise of authoritarianism anywhere in the world.”
—Ahmet Öncü, Professor of Sociology, Sabancı University, Turkey

Author Information

Sidney Plotkin is professor of political science on the Margaret Stiles Halleck Chair of Social Sciences, Vassar College, USA, where he teaches courses in American politics, political economy, power and political theory. Plotkin has written numerous articles and is the author of Keep Out: The Struggle for Land Use Control (1987), co-author of Private Interest, Public Spending (1994) and The Political Ideas of Thorstein Veblen (2011) and editor of The Anthem Companion to Thorstein Veblen (2017).


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Table of Contents

1. Donald Trump through Veblen’s Looking Glass; 2. Evolution, Institutions and Barbarism; 3. The American Plan; 4. Trumpean Ancestors, Exploitative Legacies; 5. Building for the Leisure Class; 6. Picturesque Accomplishments; 7. Candidate Trump and the Politics of Rage; 8. Limits of Barbarian Governance; Index.


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