Trump vs De Niro

The recent tiff between Donald Trump and Robert De Niro was hardly as entertaining as the one Trump had with Rosie O’Donnell a few years ago. It was, moreover, entirely predictable, for whenever a person questions Trump, as De Niro did regarding the “Birther” issue, Trump reflexively questions his opponent’s intelligence, but in the most prosaic way. He said De Niro was not the brightest bulb on the planet, and then resorted to another cliché of the repertoire by saying Mr. De Niro was not Albert Einstein. (I’ve always preferred “Well, he’s not the coldest beer in the fridge,” or, “He’s a few cards short of a full deck.” I rarely make the mistake of telling someone he’s not Albert Einstein, knowing full well I’m not either).

Mr. Trump reached the determination that Mr. De Niro is stupid through watching interviews of the actor over the years. I’ve have not seen the interviews Mr. Trump refers to, and therefore am not in position to contest his assertion that they establish, beyond a doubt, Mr. De Niro’s stupidity. Given that most interviews of celebrities do tend to establish their stupidity, I’m even inclined to accept Mr. Trump’s estimation of Mr. De Niro’s intelligence. However, Mr. De Niro is not an ordinary actor. He is, indeed, a fine actor, one of the best we have.

Mr. Trump has inadvertently raised, then, one of the perennial questions about acting: do great actors need to be intelligent. (We know Mr. Trump’s answer). The theory that acting is an instinctual art was, however, debunked long ago; it is debunked every time a novice learns how difficult it is to perform the normal acts of life while being observed. Suddenly, smoking a cigarette becomes difficult. The great actor, moreover, must possess empathy in an even greater degree than the great writer, for he must bring to life a character made out of words. It is, when done well, one of the boldest and greatest acts of creation. One could hardly think a stupid person capable of such a feat.