David Bromwich is Sterling Professor of English at Yale. He is the author, most recently, of American Breakdown: The Trump Years and How They Befell Us.
 (December 2019)


The Medium Is the Mistake

Donald Trump; drawing by John Cuneo

Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America

by James Poniewozik

Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another

by Matt Taibbi
James Poniewozik is the chief television critic of The New York Times, and his new book, Audience of One, tells a double story: the rise of Donald Trump and the rise of television. Poniewozik wants to show us that TV has everything to do with the formation of Trump’s character—his manners, his place in the commercial culture, his ability to track and manipulate popular sentiment and opinion. It seems a reasonable hypothesis. How good is the evidence?

Crazy Talk

Sean Hannity interviewing President Trump before a rally in Las Vegas, September 2018
July 26. Rush Limbaugh on his three-hour daily show on Fox News Radio is answering an e-mail about an iPhone problem. “I get lots of these calls all the time,” Limbaugh says, and the solution comes fast: “It could well be because you hold the phone in your pocket the …

In Praise of Ambiguity

William Empson, circa late 1940s

On Empson

by Michael Wood
Ambiguity has been an arresting feature of language ever since people learned to care about words for reasons unconnected with utility. An instruction manual on fixing a wheel shouldn’t leave you uncertain whether a wood or a metal spoke is preferred. But diplomacy can allow for “strategic ambiguity,” well understood …

On the Election—I

What is to be done about the Republican Party? Sixty years ago it was the party of Dwight Eisenhower and a dynamic suburban middle class putting an end at last to the long reign of the New Deal Democrats. This summer it became the pathetic captive of Donald Trump, a television performer professing to speak for a discontented and sullen middle class.


The Limited Virtues of ‘Vice’

Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s Vice

The impersonations in Vice are often inspired, and they could have supported major performances if the script had included dialogue of any substance. The gravity of the moral indictment is fatally undercut by the dispensable bright ideas that were not dispensed with, and creeping around the edges is the lazy conceit that we are a nation of morons anyway. More disheartening than all that is promised and not performed is the space on the shelf that Vice will now occupy. It takes the oxygen out of the subject and, for a few years to come, will discourage anyone from making the truer and more somber film the history deserves. 

Bomb First

Guided-missile destroyer USS Porter firing a Tomahawk land attack missile at a Syrian military airfield in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017

For an American president, bombing is easier than thinking. For an American lawmaker or opinion-maker, it costs nothing to celebrate the resolve of a president who bombs. What conclusion will be drawn by the mind of Donald Trump when, after firing missiles at a Syrian government airfield, he is now being promoted to the ranks of the sane and responsible by the people who once characterized him as dangerously unstable?

Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Ambition

It is clear from Lincoln’s speeches, writings, and actions that he struggled against ambition in order not to let it prevail over his sense of justice. From what familiar political sources might an American of Lincoln’s generation have come to suppose that ambition poses a moral and political danger? A commanding statement was the pair of speeches by Brutus and Mark Antony to the Roman crowd in Act 3 of Julius Caesar.