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Beautiful Things review: Hunter Biden as prodigal son and the Trumpists’ target | US politics


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Robert Hunter Biden is not a rock star. Instead, the sole surviving son of Joe Biden – senator, vice-president, president – is a lawyer by training and a princeling by happenstance. Regardless, life on the edge comes with consequences.

As Hunter Biden grudgingly acknowledges in his memoir, comparisons to Billy Carter, Roger Clinton or the Trump boys, appendages to power who sought to capitalize on proximity, may be apt. Indeed, Biden cops to the possibility that his name might have had something to do with his winding up on third base without hitting a triple.

“I’m not a curio or a sideshow to a moment in history,” he writes, defensively, channeling the mantra of those with parents in high places: “I’ve worked for someone other than my father, rose and fell on my own.”

But Biden is not content to leave well alone. Instead, he announces: “Having a Biden on Burisma’s board was a loud and unmistakable ‘fuck you’ to Putin.” He protests too much.

Glossed over by Beautiful Things is that while his overseas venture may have ended up at the heart of Donald Trump’s first impeachment, it also discomforted Barack Obama’s White House. Confronted with Hunter’s foray into Ukraine and the energy business, the 44th president’s spokesman, Jay Carney, declined to express support.

“Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens, and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the vice-president or president,” said Carney, back in 2014.

Biden also portrays the relationship between his father and the Obama crowd as uneven to say the least. He points a finger at David Axelrod, an Obama counselor who played naysayer to Joe Biden’s chances in 2020, on CNN.

Hunter recounts the aftermath of a conversation between his father and then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton, about Afghanistan: “Goddamnit … Axelrod’s gotten in her ear!”

As for Clinton, Biden elides the tension that existed between his father and the 2016 nominee. It wasn’t just about Obama encouraging Clinton. Back then, Joe Biden was scared of running against her.

In Chasing Hillary, written by Amy Chozick in 2018, Joe Biden is paraphrased as saying to the press, off the record: “You guys don’t understand these people. The Clintons will try to destroy me.” Hell hath no fury like a Clinton crossed.

The younger Biden’s book shows flashes of his grasp of power politics. But he also demonstrates a continuous blind spot for his own predicament. Confession should not be conflated with self-awareness.

Biden recounts a conversation with Kathleen, his first wife, after the funeral in 2015 of Beau, his brother. He goes so far as to muse about running for office – despite his multiple addictions, all now detailed extensively on the page, and the ups-and-downs of his marriage.

She responds: “Are you serious?”

That Biden even went there is beyond puzzling. Or as he puts it, “I underestimated how much the wreckage of my past and all that I put my family through still weighed on Kathleen.”

This was before Biden commenced an affair with his late brother’s wife.

Hunter possesses little filter. His craving for absolution is hardwired.

Describing a series of interviews he granted to the New Yorker’s Adam Entous, regarding Burisma, Ukraine and all that, he writes that he “didn’t know how cathartic the experience would be”. For good measure, he adds: “It was my opportunity to tell everyone out there, ‘This is who I am, you motherfuckers, and I ain’t changing!’”

The italics are his.

Through it all, Joe Biden is shown as a loving and caring father, like the dad in the story of the prodigal son. Biden depicts his father’s efforts to intervene in his personal nightmare and the times he rebuffed such entreaties. The family’s Catholicism is present throughout his book.

The empathy and emotion Joe Biden conveys on television are part of who he is. His own setbacks and suffering helped elect him amid a terrible pandemic. Whatever facade exists is thin – and transparent.

That said, the president’s capacity to forgive his son’s trespasses makes recent stories of his low tolerance for prior marijuana use among political appointees hard to comprehend.

Joe Biden is greeted by his wife Jill and sons Beau, right, and Hunter, second left, following his inauguration as vice-president in 2009.
Joe Biden is greeted by his wife Jill and sons Beau, right, and Hunter, second left, following his inauguration as vice-president in 2009. Photograph: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Beautiful Things is smoothly written and quickly paced. We know how and where the story ends. Hunter Biden appears to have found happiness in his second marriage. His father is now president.

Still, the son cannot hide his bitterness in being turned into the whipping boy of the Trump campaign. The ex-president is “a vile man with a vile mission” who sank to “unprecedented depths” in his bid to retain power. The 6 January insurrection was vintage Trump. Charlottesville was prelude.

Recent events offer Hunter Biden some measure of personal vindication and schadenfreude. A report by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) assessed that he and his father were targeted by Russia as part of campaign to swing the election in favor of Trump.

According to the NIC, Moscow used “proxies linked to Russian intelligence” –including “some close to former President Trump and his administration” – “to push influence narratives including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden”. Rudy Giuliani looks like a Kremlin dupe.

But it doesn’t end there. In December 2019, the Florida congressman Matt Gaetz belittled Hunter Biden for his substance abuse. It was a no-holds barred takedown, unleavened by Gaetz’s own history of drinking and driving.

Timing is everything. Biden returns the favor in his book, calling Gaetz a “troll”. On Tuesday night, Gaetz admitted to being under justice department investigation “regarding sexual conduct with women” and allegedly trafficking a 17-year-old girl.

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