Hunter Biden’s story is a window into America’s soul
Nicole Hemmer/ BBC
“Crackhead Hunter.” That was the slur Donald Trump Jr. hurled at now-President Joe Biden’s younger son after the first presidential debate, during which Trump Sr. falsely stated that Hunter Biden had been dishonorably discharged for cocaine use. (Hunter had been discharged after testing positive for cocaine, but it was not a dishonorable discharge.)
After a debate that had been nearly unwatchable due to Trump’s repeated interruptions and insults, the shots taken at Hunter still stood out. For all the conspiracies the Trump team had spread about him, attacking his addiction had crossed a line.oe Biden responded to the insults during the debate by coming to Hunter’s defense. “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem,” he explained, pivoting to the heart of the matter rather than detailing why Trump was wrong. “He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.””Those words not only disarmed Trump,” Hunter writes of that moment in his new memoir, “Beautiful Things,” “but gave hope and comfort to millions of Americans.”It demonstrated the stark difference between the two candidates — one fueled by grievance, the other by empathy — and also showed how sharply Americans’ attitudes toward addiction have shifted in recent years.On the debate stage, Joe Biden reflected that change, talking about his son’s struggles openly, with deep love and pride, before extending that same empathy to the millions of American families dealing with addiction. In that moment, policy and personality intertwined in meaningful ways. Rather than the tough-love, war-on-drugs approach of the 1980s, Joe Biden treated his son — and promised to treat the country — with an endless reservoir of love, compassion, and understanding.It is politically savvy without feeling politically savvy, one of Joe Biden’s real gifts. Because there is a real upside for both Hunter and Joe Biden in centering Hunter’s challenges of addiction. Now that Americans have come to treat addiction with more empathy, both Bidens understand that a story of addiction would not compound the conspiracies swirling around Hunter, but offer a potential escape from them.Why the change? In recent years, as laws around marijuana have relaxed and worries about opioids have mounted, public attitudes about drugs and addiction have shifted. The stringent across-the-board just say no approach to drug use during the Reagan administration has softened since states began legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012. At the same time, the emerging opioid crisis, which hit White communities especially hard, led to a growing empathy toward people struggling with addiction.Hunter’s memoir projects a deep understanding of that empathy — and the urgent need for it. The story he tells is one of addiction against the backdrop of intense loss and love: a close-knit and interdependent family shattered again and again by inexplicable tragedy. Abridged
The loss of his mother and sister in a horrific car accident when he was just two is part of his story, but not central to it the way it is to his father’s.