It is the day before Donald Trump’s inauguration. Don Jr. joins his father for a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, and Don Sr. lays a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. An Army bugler plays taps. “In that moment,” Don recalls in his new book, “Triggered,” he thought of “all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed,” including giving up bits of the family business.

Reviewers and media wags have taken this as a moment of revealing bathos: this man-child of almost indescribable privilege, who has earned nothing and given nothing, finds his “hyper-rational, stoic” sensibilities melt away as he compares taking a haircut on family profits for a few years to the eternal sacrifice of the unidentified and unrecovered men and women who have died in this country’s many wars.

This reaction—a pantomime of moral indignation—makes me almost sympathetic to poor Junior. The presidential laying-of-the-wreath is itself a piece of national bathos, an invented piece of ritualistic solemnity that we’re supposed to treat as some kind of ancient holy tradition, unbroken for a thousand years. Is Don’s daydreaming comparison crass and tacky? Sure. Is it further evidence in the already-proved case that jealous grievance is the psychological crutch of the entire adult Trump family? Probably! Does it also show that attempted argument of Trump Jr.’s hasty, committee-written, stitched together, last-minute-Christmas-gift-for-your-uncle book has at least a shadow of a point? Maybe.

The book is awful, often nearly unreadable, and padded out to within an inch of its life. It is an embarrassment to everyone involved, but it is hardly a great moral travesty, except perhaps for a publishing industry that churns out hundreds of such slapdash titles every year for a few-week cocaine rush of revenue before the thousands of overprints are chucked into the remainder bin or pulped. Much of what passes for commentary in the most august institutions of the conservative intelligentsia is far more offensive, racist and cruel.

The purported intent of “Triggered” is to take the reader through a bestiary of angry libs, from censorious SJWs to, well, censorious social media sites and institutions of higher learning. His heart just isn’t in it. Just this week, Don Jr. appeared in front of what was meant to be a sympathetic audience of conservatives at a book event at UCLA and was heckled by hooting MAGA undergrads outraged that he wouldn’t take questions about race and the border from a contingent of white nationalist Trump supporters. (The episode concluded with him ineffectually pleading that such a Q&A would produce damaging sound bites for liberals to use against him.)

You would not have found Ann Coulter soft-pedaling complaints about the liberal weaponization of racism with lines like, “Racism is still a big problem in our country—not nearly to the extent that the left would have you believe, of course, but it’s still one of our major issues.” He can barely summon the energy for real moral panic about trans people, except to worry that men are going to sneak their way into dominating women’s sports—a field about which he’s never exhibited the slightest public interest—and to engage in a bit of flaccid “You won’t believe what these Hollywood weirdos are up to!” humor at the expense of rich Brooklynites and celebs who try to raise their children in a gender-neutral environment.

No one should harbor any illusions that Don Jr. wrote or even read much of this book, and its farcical end notes—a litany of hastily googled Washington Post, New York Times and Politico stories—is evocative of precisely the underpaid staff and assembly-line churn that produces most of the junk pumped out by major publishers’ “conservative” imprints. But there are moments when Don shines through, and these are invariably where the narrative turns from its dull litany of outrages to something more autobiographical.

If the Arlington episode reveals a man crippled by self-pity and hounded by petty regret, many of these other episodes expose something darker and sadder, pitiable rather than hateful, a tragedy of a better life unlived. Don Jr.’s recollections of his early life, in particular his visits to his grandparents in the former Czechoslovakia, are too sentimental to be moving, but I don’t doubt his days spent wandering the small stand of woods near their home is as joyous a childhood memory as he makes it out to be. Nor do I doubt that he really did love visiting construction sites with his father, talking to builders and playing on trucks (although he lacks the basic psychological insight to realize that these burly, sweaty men are only humoring the boss’s kid and feel no real affection for him in return.) What kid wouldn’t love spending his days roaming unsupervised or else playing with dump trucks and backhoes? What an idyll it must have seemed, at least when his mother wasn’t breaking wooden spoons over his ass, as she is alleged to have done in the book.

There is one moment in particular that hints at what might have been. It is the year after Don Jr. graduated from college, and he decides to go off on a wanderjahr, packing up his Jeep and heading out to Colorado to hunt and hike, even though his father says he will be cut off financially. (Don Jr. is still a rich kid, and his parents forget to turn off his Mobil credit card, so he keeps himself in gas and the occasional steak dinner throughout his stay.) He finds a gig tending bar at The Tippler, an infamously raucous Aspen nightspot that had by then turned into a bit of a dive. The bar is slow during the week, and he spends days on end fly fishing, elk hunting and simply driving the intermountain West. “For a moment or so during that year, the thought of staying in Aspen for an extended period of time might have crossed my mind: a bartender at night, ski bum and outdoorsman by day kind of life.” Even Donald Trump Jr. is not a bad enough writer to prevent the illuminating light of genuine longing from shining through. He genuinely wanted it. He could have stayed. He would have been happy, I am quite sure.

Instead, he gets strong-armed by his father into going back to New York and back to the family business, although this is grafted onto one of the goofiest come-to-Jesus 9/11 stories that I have ever read, in which the attacks on the World Trade Center reveal to him “there was only one place I wanted to be.” One abrupt page break later, and we are on his “first job in the real estate business after college.” Yes, who among us cannot recall the inescapable siren song of tacky waterfront developments on that day 3,000 Americans died? It is too absurd, even for a Trump, and not even his fans will believe this bit of ardent personal mythmaking. Well, either way, it’s all too bad, another life ruined by the ambitions of his gross father, who barely seems to notice he’s there.

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