So, what makes Hunter in particular more than a garden variety failson? Why is he more interesting, especially to people who see his father as insufficiently devoted to their progressive politics?
What’s most immediately obvious is Hunter’s excess. Some on the left have joked that Don Jr. occasionally exudes cocaine-user energy; Hunter literally has photos on his computer of himself smoking crack. He allegedly deducted a sex club membership from his taxes; during a particularly dark few weeks he left his apartment only to buy Smirnoff vodka. For the super-online lefties who can find spectacle in anything, divorcing it from reality or sincerity, he’s ventured further down into various addictions than anyone else so closely connected to a U.S. president; there’s something thrilling about that.
“He’s not just doing key bumps or anything like you might have at some urban yuppie party, he’s out there, getting guns put on his head to do crack,” Christman tells me. “Which means, in street parlance, he’s a real one.” (Hunter says he’s been clean since 2019.)
On the subreddit r/redscarepod, dedicated to a vaguely irony-poisoned podcast hosted by Dasha Nekrasova and Anna Khachiyan that started in the pro-Bernieverse but has morphed into a show friendly with the New Right, a user posted “Hunter Biden go on Red Scare” with two photos (one of Hunter with a cigarette, another of Hunter with a crack pipe in his mouth in bed). Comments include “at least one person in the Biden family turned out all right [sic]” and “Not even his dead brother’s widow could resist.” (Hunter dated his brother’s widow, Hallie.)
Then, there’s Hunter’s seemingly insatiable need to document everything. There was a point in his life when Hunter was taking more selfies than a TikTok influencer looking to expand their brand deals. It’s a strange affliction for a 53-year-old who didn’t grow up in the internet age, but it explains both why we know so much more about his misdeeds than the average screw up (physical evidence) and partly why he looks familiar to a mostly younger audience.
But beyond the overindulgence and the obsessive documentation, the quality that keeps Hunter front of mind for a group of people who already have little faith in the U.S. government is how damaged he appears to them.
“[With Don Jr.] you don’t get a picture of comprehensive human frailty like you do with Hunter,” says Felix Biederman, another Chapo Trap House host. “With Hunter, I think you do get a bit of a more complete picture of the pain and the yearning.”
To many of the people interested in his story, he’s a tragic figure. His mom and sister were killed in a car crash when he was a small child, his brother died when he was a troubled adult. Many of the joking, over-the-top defenses of Hunter come from people who recognize something in his story: a death in the family, for example, leading to or heightening addiction issues or depression.