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‘De Niro Principle’: Bad For Debate, Bad For Voters, Bad For America

As is becoming squirmingly evident, De Niro's analytical acumen and political strategizing don't quite measure up to his silver-screen legacy.

Perhaps, going forward, we should label it “The De Niro Principle”: the observation that an individual can be immensely talented in one, narrow area while proving himself ham-fisted in lots of others.

I’m speaking, of course, of film star Robert De Niro.

The attention-snagging skills the 80-year-old actor has demonstrated for over half a century in moviedom? Difficult to deny. Alas, as is becoming squirmingly evident, De Niro’s analytical acumen and political strategizing don’t quite measure up to his silver-screen legacy.

Routinely over the past several years, and with increasing frequency as Election Day 2024 looms, the Tinsel-Town tough-guy has been pugnaciously turning up in the spotlight to scathe, snarl, and spew at former President Donald Trump. Two weeks ago, for instance, he made an appearance (alongside the Biden Campaign’s Communications Director(!) Michael Tyler) mere blocks away from the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse in which Trump’s Stormy Daniels/hush-money trial was being adjudicated.

The Daily Wire‘s Tim Pearce writes:

President Joe Biden’s campaign held an event outside the courthouse … The Biden campaign invited De Niro, a vocal critic of the former president, to speak. De Niro denounced Trump and claimed the American system of government is at stake in the 2024 election.

“Under Trump, this kind of government will perish from the Earth. … If Trump returns to the White House, you can kiss these freedoms goodbye that we all take for granted,” De Niro said, “And elections? Forget about them. That’s over, that’s done. If he gets in, I can tell you right now, he will never leave. … You know that.

“That’s why I’ve joined the Biden-Harris campaign, because the only way to preserve our freedoms and hold on to our humanity is to vote for Joe Biden for president, … Really – we don’t have a choice.”

Good grief. “Perish from the earth”? “Only way to preserve our freedoms”? “He will never leave”? “Hold on to our humanity”? 

Grab the smelling salts!

What’s the movie icon’s next project? Is he auditioning for the role of hysterically overheated activist?

Not long before his courthouse foray, the Godfather 2 alum guested on mid-morning gab-fast The View where he disgorged another hyperbolic polemic: De Niro wearisomely lumped in Donald Trump with Hitler and Mussolini; elegantly accused the presumed Republican candidate’s supporters of wanting to “f*ck with the rest of the country”; and advised the Trump campaign’s slogan ought to be “F*ck America”. He predicted, “If he wins the election, it’s over.”

Recall back in 2018, in an unappetizing foretaste of things to come, De Niro launched a Tony Awards appearance before a packed house of fellow creatives by bellowing “F*ck Trump”. Twice! The second time with militantly upraised fists! (Did De Niro’s buddy Martin Scorsese direct that obscenely theatrical bit?)

Don’t miss the predictable De Niro markers in the above: the slovenly — and possibly counterproductive — descent into profanity; the disheveled reasoning and rhetoric (lazily tossing around dictator allusions: Hitler! Mussolini!); the hair-on-fire tone.

True enough, RD has made a name for himself over the decades by compellingly performing for ticket-buying audiences. Some of my fellow conservatives deride his deftness in front of the camera — and, respectfully, I believe they’re wrong. The man’s gifts as an actor are copious. Some of his detractors are allowing understandable resentments of his blared viewpoints to skew acknowledgement of his artistry.

That aside, why should the average American otherwise care a fig for the the Oscar-winner’s skewering opinions? Who says cinematic sizzle reflexively translates into political perspicacity?

Granted, De Niro has as much right to ventilate his convictions — even to spray his venom — as does the plumber next door, the financial investor, the homemaker, the — ahem – “taxi-driver”, the conservative shopkeeper or the Leftist waitress. The hard-to-miss difference is few, if any, of these “regular” folks would be afforded a platform across the street from a history-making trial; holding forth before a clutch of microphones, television cameras, and media types; the whole staging broadcast, literally, around the globe.

And yet, so much of the general populace sits spellbound before his hyperbolic sneerings … because he’s Robert De Niro, after all.

Principles of Logic warn against what is called ” The Genetic Fallacy” — which occurs when “a claim is ignored or given credibility based on its source rather than the claim itself.” I suppose “The De Niro Principle” would qualify as a tributary of the “Genetic Fallacy”: Oh, that entertaining movie chap is saying unflattering things about Trump. They must be true!

In a sense, much of celebri-philia is an offshoot of the “Genetic Fallacy”.  Whether we’re considering film or TV personae, musicians, athletes, or social media “influencers”, automatically crediting the judgments of anyone simply because he/she is a readily recognized public figure is a pulpy-headed way to approach decision-making. I see him on TV so I agree with him! She sings well — she must be wise! His website is popular — I gotta trust him!

Voilà! “The De Niro Principle” in action.

The ironic piece is, here and there, some of De Niro’s gripes may have a kernal of merit to them. Joe Biden is an unalloyed catastrophe as president; but, in my book, there’s much to knock in his 78-year-old GOP rival as well (Trump’s calls for “revenge”, childish outbursts and generally low character, backtracking on pro-life, softness for the LGBTQ lobby, etc.) Still, the Raging Bull star’s unhinged, anti-“Orange Man” mania could almost persuade a thoughtful Trump critic to reconsider his misgivings. If a frothing Hollywood-type can be so irresponsibly, off-the-rails alarmist regarding Donald Trump, while commending Joe Biden — diminished. blundering Joe Biden! — as the solution? Well, could it be all Trump’s faultfinders are similarly misguided?

Sometimes it’s enthusiasts on the political/cultural Right who unreflectively buy into every utterance of professional, publicity-hungry Trump apologists. Among their “Get-Trump-Whatever-It-Takes” opposite numbers? It’s not uncommon for every Leftist eructation to be met with undiscerning acceptance. In either case, indulgence of “The De Niro Principle” makes for an uniformed, weak-minded, undiscriminating citizenry. And it’s guaranteed to only exacerbate the kill-or-be-killed atmosphere lately transforming America into a facsimile of another De Niro production: the gruesome cornfield execution scene near the end of 1995’s mob flick Casino.

Steve Pauwels

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.