President Trump has unabashedly positioned himself as a culture warrior, doubling down on language and views that alienate large numbers of Americans because it plays well with the groups that support him most. But last night's speech by Robert DeNiro at the Tony Awards suggests that “Hollywood elites” are taking a similar approach.
The Associated Press reported:
“De Niro, a staunch Trump opponent, dropped a couple of F-bombs heard clearly by the Radio City Music crowd Sunday night. The CBS television audience heard dead silence instead before he raised his arms — twice — and earned a sustained standing ovation.”
More specifically, De Niro said:
“I just want to say one thing: F--- Trump. It’s no longer down with Trump. It’s f--- Trump.”
Many Trump supporters argue that people like De Niro — a wealthy celebrity who has shown little empathy for them — are why Trump won. When Trump voters hear De Niro curse the president, they hear the Oscar winner cursing them.
De Niro's language — and perhaps more importantly, the crowd's enthusiastic support of it — is the latest reminder that the tribalism phenomenon only worsened since the 2016 election.
A 2017 Pew Research Center survey reported that Americans are less likely than in the past to hold a mix of conservative and liberal views.
Reflecting growing partisan gaps across most of the individual questions in the scale — even those where both parties have shifted in the same direction — Republicans and Democrats are now further apart ideologically than at any point in more than two decades. The large demographic shifts reshaping America are playing out differently across urban, suburban and rural communities.
A popular narrative goes that conservative and working-class Americans in the heartland watching the Tonys were so offended by De Niro that they will be even more inclined to vote for Trump, that in fact that attitude extends toward them personally, and Trump is sticking it to the laughing elites in their defense. Whether or not that is actually true, Trump's supporters view the president favorably for multiple reasons, including his willingness to stand up for the worldviews that these Americans feel many of those who attended the Tonys regularly mock.
But Trump's full embrace of the right's tribalism may be part of the reason why some on the left are doubling down — because their conviction is that Trump is so problematic, if not dangerous, that calling him out in the most attention-grabbing way is more important than trying to win over certain communities that are highly unlikely to change their political views. Given Trump supporters unyielding support for Trump -- and some of the more controversial aspect of his presidency, perhaps De Niro's approach is a testament to many on the left's belief that the "going high" that former first lady Michelle Obama once encouraged may no longer be an attractive option.
But a challenge that both the left and the right face is that their intolerance for indecency seems to be reserved for their political opponents. While many conservatives took to social media to criticize De Niro's language, it is difficult finding as spirited critiques from the right when Trump lobs profane words at his political opponents.
And while the approving crowd at the Tony Awards affirmed the spirit — and perhaps even language — behind De Niro's message, it is hard to imagine that they would have been as supportive had a conservative entertainer had such choice language for a leading liberal politician.
It is hard to figure out how to improve American's increasingly divided culture when there appears to be little incentive to do so; behavior and language are only deemed appalling when they come from one's political opponents. It seems engaging political foes via insult will likely be prominent heading into the midterm elections and maybe even 2020, particularly with Trump as the country's leaders. More than six in 10 Americans said Trump is doing more to divide the nation than to unite the nation, according to January Quinnipiac poll.