In These Times - April 21, 2021

This premise — that Hunter is a liar but an honest one — makes Beautiful Things a fascinating glimpse into the life of America’s middling political aristocracy and, perhaps, a funhouse mirror reflection of his father’s own place in our crooked meritocracy

Hunter Biden wanted to be an artist, perhaps a writer or a musician. His older brother, Beau, encouraged him to become a singer-songwriter. And yet, impelled by a striving ambition born of the desire to emulate his more conventional older sibling (and to heed the advice of the well-heeled elites who surrounded the Biden family from early childhood), Hunter chose a different path. He strives earnestly, but he is beset by failure and addiction.

By his own confession, Hunter Biden is a liar, a cheat and a sneak. The embattled youngest son of President Joe Biden — and the author of a hasty but not uncharming new memoir, Beautiful Things—is willing to deceive his loved ones and business partners while stretching his moral and financial credit to their limits.

Hunter is also almost entirely without guile. When he reapplies to Yale Law School after initially being rejected, he is convinced it was a poem he submitted with his application that ultimately sealed his acceptance. ​“Yale’s acceptance letter noted that my success and dedication … more than qualified me,” he writes, ​“but that my poem was unlike anything they’d ever received.” The idea that an admissions officer would reward a politically prominent admittee after he studied for a year at a slightly less august institution — in this case, Georgetown — simply never occurs to him. Ah yes, young man. Your poem. Quite unlike anything ever seen.

This premise — that Hunter is a liar but an honest one — makes Beautiful Things a fascinating glimpse into the life of America’s middling political aristocracy and, perhaps, a funhouse mirror reflection of his father’s own place in our crooked meritocracy. The book is an ungainly amalgam: part macho addiction memoir, part soppy tale of sibling grief, part new-age romance. Through it all, Hunter fails ever upward, convinced he has succeeded solely on his own merits. Hunter is not the first American scion to believe this, of course, but few have imbibed the ersatz, shirt-sleeve, blue-collar political identity his old man has used to such effect over the past half-century in Washington. Just as Joe Biden once infamously declared, ​“I’m not the senator from MBNA” — a Delaware-based bank that was once one of the largest credit card issuers in the United States, before it was swallowed up by Bank of America in a $35 billion acquisition — Hunter acknowledges his good fortune but earnestly (and incredulously) believes he is a self-made man. ...
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