The Great Robert De Niro Distraction

It’s already been an insane week for the United States. Trump has insulted our allies at the G7, started a trade war with Canada, staged a pointless photo-op with Kim Jong Un, and the Supreme Court justice he appointed cast a deciding vote to begin rampant voter suppression in Ohio. If there was a period recently where I’ve felt more ashamed to be American, I cannot think of one. Of course, none of this matters, because something even worse happened. That’s right – Robert De Niro said “Fuck Trump!” On national television. Oh, the inhumanity!

In case you haven’t been paying attention, while introducing Bruce Springsteen on the Tony Awards Sunday night, Robert De Niro said to the audience, “I’m just gonna say one thing – fuck Trump!” The audience then burst into applause.

Conservatives, of course, were outraged by the whole thing, forgetting momentarily that they had voted for a man who said he grabs women by the p***y to express their disdain towards De Niro.

Those who were at the Tony Awards said that the audience was not applauding because of what De Niro said, but because Springsteen was setting up right behind him to perform an excerpt from his one-man show. The cheering for him was so loud that most people in Radio City Music Hall barely heard De Niro in the first place. But eyewitness accounts like that have never gotten in the way of good conservative outrage, as Sean Spicer made a rare appearance from the cave he’s been hiding in to call it “deplorable.”

In the last two months, conservatives in the media have gone after Michelle Wolf for her “smokey eye” comments about Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Samantha Bee for calling Ivanka a “feckless c**t,” Bill Maher for saying that a recession would be the best thing to stop Trump, and now De Niro. While doing this makes conservatives happy, as it allows them to point fingers at the “liberal elites” in Hollywood, it does nothing but drive Democrats into a snake-eats-tail frenzy as we debate whether or not we are too mean and if this is the right way to reach Trump voters. We should be talking about the norms Trump is undoing, but as long as conservatives have us playing on their turf, we are fighting a losing battle.

Conservatives and liberals alike need to remember that the average American voter (on both sides) is not going to be swayed by whatever a celebrity says or does unless it involves grassroots activism. If Robert De Niro really had the power to sway elections, then the rally he did with Al Gore in Florida the night before the 2000 election would’ve truly changed the course of history. What’s more, I actively resist the notion that “when they go low, we go high.” It sounds great in principle, but when your opponents are throwing mud at you every day, it gets you nowhere. Sean Connery’s words in The Untouchables on how to get Al Capone should be the Democrats’ mantra as we fight to take back Congress this year:

Getting angry over whatever a celebrity says or does will not do anything to sway your opponents. What’s more, it’s a distraction from the real issues at hand which we have to make relatable to men and women of all demographics throughout the next year. The De Niro story is juicy clickbait, but the media (and conservative media in particular) would love for you to focus your attention on it so that you can ignore the democratic norms Trump is dismantling every day. While you resist Trump, resist the urge to get distracted by events like this.

Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.