April 12, 2021


What haunts Hunter Biden? (Tanya Gold, Apr. 11th, 2021, Unherd)

Hunter has the misfortune to be surrounded by saints. His father is the anti-Trump. His mother is sanctified by death. His brother Beau was saintly too: he was attorney general of Delaware, scourge of sex offenders, preparing to run for governor in 2016. (If Joe didn't win the presidency, Beau was next in line, his father's choice). But Beau died of brain cancer in 2015 and is likewise beyond reproach.

If you are among saints, and you are not like them, what are you? A sinner, and Hunter couldn't exist without his better half. When Beau dies, he asks himself: "If we weren't the three of us anymore, what were we?" His father, meanwhile, "sat on his porch for hours and took one call after another from current and former leaders from every hemisphere and every country." This repression is the family way. Hunter and Beau never asked each other what they remembered about the accident. And here again, "Dad and I never really sat together to have a heart-to-heart, to talk about what we were going through. Words," he writes, "almost felt risky".

Instead, emboldened by the public response to his eulogy, he asked his wife Kathleen if he should run for office on the wave of grief and sympathy. (It's the other family way). She replied: "Are you serious?" After that, "We didn't say another word to each other for the rest of the ride. Or, really, ever again". Bereft of both Beau and Kathleen, his addiction took flight.

The first part of the book deals with his childhood -- the enforced gratitude for their privileges and the conditional love of the people of Delaware -- and loss of Beau. This part feels stymied. Hunter describes the relationship between the three men like this: "It's a Biden love story, of course, which means it's complicated: tragic, humane, emotional, enduring, widely consequential, and ultimately redemptive." They all talk like this: in broad concepts of love, loss and courage. Do they talk like this in private? They might do. How do they order soup?

There is also a defence of his business dealings in China and Ukraine, which were used to attack his father by his opponents. It's an across-the-board denial of wrong-doing, too comprehensive and outraged in tone to feel true. But if it isn't entirely true, he cannot say otherwise. He is, again, constricted by his father's need for power. (There are no politics in this book at all. It is the most telling blank.)

Only in the second part -- when Hunter details his relapses and half-life inside hotels rooms with criminals -- is the prose alive. For using is his most vivid life, the only place where he is allowed to be angry at the things that are denied him. His writing on this is raging and horrifying. His description of his relationship with Rhea, a street homeless crack addict who moves in with him, is the best thing in the book: a bizarre and functional marriage, with crack as their beloved child.

Hunter is not long sober, if he is at all. He gave a long interview to the New Yorker in 2019 but reveals here that he was high during every interview. (He has been using, with gaps of varying length, since his father became Vice President; since he ascended to the mountain-top). I would not comment on a fellow addict's sobriety, but he is a Biden and therefore public property: I am invited to comment.

Hunter does not sound well. He still hates the drug dealers he was dependent on, though they were as addicted as he, and with none of his privileges. If he had what recovering addicts call emotional sobriety -- or if he were truly a progressive -- he would try to understand their behaviour. He married a second time, to Melissa, who had "the exact same eyes as my brother," after knowing her for a week. He did not thank his first wife Kathleen, who suffered at his hands, in his acknowledgements. His thanks to Melissa, "the love of my life," feel like whiplash.

And he never tells us what I most want to know as he tells of hotel tabs and hangers-on and profligacy: where did he get the money? There is a seemingly inexhaustible supply for his using. Its source is not divulged.

He is honest, though, about his love affair with his brother's wife Hallie after Beau's death. It was a pitiful attempt to reanimate the man they both loved. He wanted, he writes, to be close to Beau's children: "I was seduced by the idea of providing the same kind of extended family that surrounded Beau and me after we lost our mommy and sister". It's a re-imagining of the extended family he was gifted to after the death of his mother, but here it feels explicitly insane.

Joe is the most interesting character in this book, of course, and he is not in this book. He is God on his mountaintop. 

Survivor's guilt is a monstrous thing. 

Posted by at April 12, 2021 12:00 AM