In his 1852 essay, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” Marx recalls a saying from Hegel, “that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice.” Marx adds, “He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
Often forgotten, Marx follows with an equally telling observation: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” He warns, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” That nightmare defines 21stcentury U.S. politics.
In 1873, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner published The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, a popular work that satirized the greed and political corruption of the modern era. The term “gilded age” stuck, signifying a period lasting from the 1870s to 1910s. It epitomized the rise of a new class of capitalists, the “robber barons,” who promoted innovation with shady business scams that fostered corporate tyranny.
Working with other corporate buccaneers and backed by unscrupulous speculators, these tycoons of old formed giant trusts that monopolized the production and distribution of essential goods. Economic power fostered political influence. The robber barons controlled Washington, D.C, politics as well as many state…