David Bromwich


4 January 2018

Down Memory Hole

On 13 December, the New York Timespublished an article on the scrubbing of Kevin Spacey’s performance as J. Paul Getty from final prints of the film All the Money in the World. A fast reshoot had slotted Christopher Plummer into every scene that included Spacey; the dazzled reporter, Brooks Barnes, paid homage to the genius and alacrity of the director, Ridley Scott; and they called it in the print edition ‘Daring Act to Save Face’ – a sort of sick pun, and the matter is not so cute when you think about it. Scott was prompted by his recognition that the accusations against Spacey, from unwanted touch to groping to rape – which may turn out to be true, false or exaggerated, in unknown combinations – would damage the box-office take of All the Money in the World. Accordingly, he reworked the film against his original vision, in order to guard against a boycott. The boycott, however, was only speculative; the expunging and substitution were real.


14 July 2017

Trump and 'The Purloined Letter'

Donald Trump Jr was approached last summer by a publicist, Rob Goldstone, acting on behalf of a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who offered the Trump campaign ‘very high level and sensitive information’ about Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Russia. The response by Donald Jr was not high-minded: ‘If it’s what you say, I love it.’ Apparently the offer of information turned out to be an empty pretext. The instigator of the meeting was a pop musician, Emin Agalarov, the son of a businessman, Aras Agalarov – a name that also came up in the ‘dodgy dossier’ on Trump collected by the ex-MI6 agent Christopher Steele. Trump Senior had taken money from Agalarov, and in return provided Miss Universe contestants for use in a music video by Emin. American billionaires and Russian oligarchs may be supposed to share an elective affinity. They are members of an international tribe, and snap their fingers at sovereignties.


11 May 2017

Trump v. Comey

James Comey was the acting attorney general of the United States in March 2004 when two emissaries from the Bush White House marched to the hospital bed of the attorney general, John Ashcroft, and asked him to renew the warrantless mass surveillance programme code-named Stellar Wind – a programme whose legality had been questioned by the Office of Legal Counsel. Comey, who is six foot eight, stood between the White House flunkies and the sick man’s bed, and they retreated. Soon after, he informed Bush that if the secret programme were reauthorised over the objections he had seen, he himself and the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, would lead a mass resignation from the justice department. Bush fell back; and a chink opened in the system whose vastness and illegality would eventually be exposed by Edward Snowden. It was one of very few moments in the Bush-Obama years that bore the stamp of civic courage: someone inside government had been willing to sacrifice his career to uphold the constitution. So when, in September 2013, President Obama appointed Comey as the next director of the FBI, the move was generally applauded.


30 September 2016

Make them dance

The Presidential Debate Watch at the Apollo Theater in Harlem – it was a scene. The line wound around the block at 125th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, but a friend and I were 'VIP' guests of one of the panellists, causing some embarrassment as we tried to figure out the way in; an organiser mistook 'VIP' for 'RSVP' and sent us to the line for aspiring almost-ticket-holders who didn't like the encroachment. Inside, the DJ in the balcony box stage right, DJ Enuff, was dancing to the tracks he played, and forwarding, to a large screen at the front, stills and short video shots of the crowd, taken by himself, plus selfies sent by the crowd, and tweets mostly just saying 'We are here!' but others more expressive: 'The DJ is filling us with love, which we need'; 'Are there any Trump supporters here? Or did all this fine ass melanin scare them off?'; 'READY TO RUMBLE'; 'May the best woman win.' My friend said about Trump and HRC: 'They should be forced to dance together, before they debate.'


9 August 2016

These Sudden Mobs

I’ve been thinking about some lines of a poem by Wallace Stevens called 'Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz': There are these sudden mobs of men, These sudden clouds of faces and arms, An immense suppression, freed, These voices crying without knowing for what, Except to be happy, without knowing how, Imposing forms they cannot describe, Requiring order beyond their speech. Too many waltzes have ended. The lines are the work of an American poet writing in the 1930s, and the first thing that may come to mind is the hunger marchers of the Depression. But there were other mobs then, in Germany, Italy and elsewhere.


27 May 2011

Obama's Mental Bookkeeping

Minutes before midnight last night, President Obama, in Paris, by a species of teleportable pen signed into law a four-year extension of the Patriot Act: the central domestic support of the security apparatus devised by the Bush administration, after the bombings of 11 September 2001 and the 'anthrax letters' a week later. The first Patriot Act passed the senate on 25 October 2001, by a vote of 98-1 – the opposing vote coming from Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. In the years that followed, a minority view developed, which said that the Patriot Act 'went too far'; but its steadiest opponents have come from outside the mainstream media: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Cato Institute, and libertarian columnists such as Glenn Greenwald and Nat Hentoff.


10 December 2010

Obama’s Peculiar Custom

President Obama’s theoretical willingness to continue the Bush tax cuts for the rich was first hinted at in a New York Times column by Peter Orszag on 6 September. Orszag had stepped down a few weeks earlier from his position as Obama’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, and he was known to be close to Obama; such a column, it was plain, would not have been written without the president’s encouragement. The novelty of the Orszag proposal was that Congress should extend the cuts for just two years.

The next day, a Times headline suggested that Obama would never stand for any kind of extension: ‘Obama is against a compromise on Bush tax cuts.’ But there was a complication. Obama wanted to let the lower rates expire for the top 2 per cent of earners, but stay in force for the remaining 98 per cent, whom he called ‘the middle class’. He was presenting himself as a statesman, uniquely concerned with the middle class, yet mindful of the budget deficit. The Republicans, Obama reasoned, by opposing him would show themselves both careless of the deficit and heartless toward the middle class.