On Saturday night, Robert De Niro caused quite the stir when he took the stage to introduce Bruce Springsteen at The Tony Awards. Instead of obsequiously rounding off Springsteen’s achievements and accolades, De Niro approached the microphone and exclaimed “I’m gonna say one thing. Fuck Trump” and raised his fists into the air.
De Niro has become an outspoken Trump critic, from calling him the “Jerkoff-in-Chief” at a gala earlier in the year to barring him from his restaurant Nobu. The sentiment that De Niro expressed is one that I would think many people have thought at some point over the past year. His comments about the protests of NFL players, implying that one his accusers was too ugly for him to have sexually abused, his unwavering denial of Russia collusion even as the number of indictments and guilty pleas continue to rise, are just a few reasons why this sentiment may be justified.
So while it was not De Niro’s sentiment that I disagree with, it was the way he went about expressing it. I could immediately see the moment being replayed endlessly on Fox News with conservative pundits ranting about Hollywood elites and the left’s bias towards Trump. It is an element of right-wing rhetoric that has become trite and banal, that the left dislike Trump so because he doesn’t play by their rules of ‘political correctness’. Such a moment allows for more airtime to be given to discussions about pretentious Hollywood elites with too much money and time on their hands and not the multitude of valid reasons to critique President Trump.
A moment like this provides insight upon the often debated issue of the role of celebrities in the arena of politics and activism. Some believe that the widespread acceptance of celebrities being entitled to having their opinions on Syria, climate change, lifestyle or nutrition being heard is indicative of society’s devaluation of expertise. Take the recent news about Kim Kardashian West and her meeting with President Trump to advocate for the release of Alice Marie Johnson. Many argued that such a complex topic like prison reform should be left to those well-acquainted with the issue, not to someone who was made awareness of it stems from an Instagram video.
When celebrities don’t speak out and don’t use their voice, they get shat on. A mountain of criticism was thrown at Taylor Swift when she didn’t speak up during the 2016 presidential election, resulting in some suspicion of her being a closeted Trump supporter. And despite the justified criticism of Kardashian, Alice Marie Johnson now walks free.
It is easy to dismiss celebrities as vapid, preach-y do-gooders and there is a danger in placing too much importance on what they say. However, just because a person’s name is known across the world does not mean they stop being a person with opinions. Whether deservedly or not, celebrities have been blessed with an unrivalled platform that may been disproportionate to their knowledge or expertise, but ultimately it is their right to decide how they use it.
De Niro’s generic condemnation of Trump solves nothing and changes no minds. He was speaking in New York, at the Tony Awards, so I doubt there were any Trump supporters in the room. While De Niro’s comments should not be used as evidence of reasons why celebrities should just stick to what they became famous for, such a blanket denunciation plays into a conservative media narrative that promotes mistrust, allowing conservative pundits to rant about corrupt Hollywood elites while avoiding the actual reasons behind the hatred and disgust.