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A Man of Faith

· The Lede

God said to Abraham "Kill me a son."

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited


I think myself into the hero, but into Abraham I cannot think myself...

Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

"Has there ever been a president with so much pain in his personal life as President Biden has suffered?" Esquire columnist Charles Pierce asked, rhetorically, on June 11, after a Wilmington, Delaware jury found the president's son - his only living son, as many have noted - guilty on three felony gun charges.

The previous week, President Biden had said that he would not pardon his son, and after the conviction, he issued a statement reiterating that he would accept the outcome of the case and "respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal."

As pundits have noted, the president's stance stands in marked contrast to former president Donald J. Trump's myriad attempts to undermine the judicial process. But historians, if they still exist in 50 or 100 years, may see Joe Biden's stand as something more profound. In a convulsing world torsioning between medievalism and the Enlightenment, Biden has done far more than subscribe to ethics. Good Catholic though he may be, he has made the ultimate sacrifice, not for God, but for our secular notion of Good: the Enlightenment principles of the nation's founders. There is a whiff of religion in this; not Christianity, but faith and fealty to the Enlightenment values that let us believe, for one bright shining moment, that here in Camelot....

The last stage he loses sight of is the infinite resignation. He really goes further, and reaches faith....

Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

What must have made Biden's decision particularly painful is the knowledge that this case was clearly political. Put baldly, junkies buy guns all the time and they are rarely prosecuted. That is the Orwellian trick of it: convicted felon Donald Trump complains that his court cases are politically inspired "witch hunts" while Hunter Biden's gun charges actually are political. Any parent must be horrified by the idea that, however indirectly, they have made one of their children a target, especially a son who is a drug addict in recovery.

And yet it is Hunter's drug use that makes the Bidens a quintessential American family. Political commentator Walter Shapiro wrote about Biden's ascension from "Middle Class Joe," the Amtrak-riding regular guy from Wilmington to someone more reminiscent of a character in a Ward Just novel about Washington D.C. power.

"Out of nowhere," Shapiro recounts, "Biden began talking about how he had learned in Washington that 'there’s a river of power that flows through this country.' With passion in his voice, Biden explained, 'Some people—most people—don’t even know the river is there.... And some people, a few, get to swim in the river all the time.' And then Biden moved in for the clincher, 'And that river flows from the Ivy League.'"

Joe Biden had gone to the University of Delaware, where he was an indifferent student, and his law degree from Syracuse, which he chose because his first wife was from upstate New York. But, Shapiro points out, that was then.

By contrast, Hunter Biden, through obviously intelligent, has benefited from that river of power. He went to Georgetown and Yale Law School. After a stint volunteering with Jesuits in Portland, Oregon, he quickly rose to executive vice president at MBNA, the credit card company that had contributed to his father's campaigns. He later worked at the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, one of the country's most powerful law firms.

The template for Hunter Biden's rise and fall was set, or so it seems in retrospect: the unearned connections, the younger brother protected by the family after the tragic car accident that killed his mother and sister. And yet there was that volunteer stint with the Jesuits, and later, four years as chair of the World Food Program USA.

People are complicated. It's not hard to imagine how the horrific echoes of that earlier loss when his elder brother Beau died in 2015 created the perfect storm for this second son, whose drug use reportedly began after Beau's death. “After Beau died, I never felt more alone. I lost hope,” he wrote in his surprisingly good memoir Beautiful Things. He is certainly not alone; more than 40 million Americans have substance abuse disorders, according to the National Institute on Drugs and Addiction.

As president, Biden could have called off the U.S. Department of Justice. At any time, he could pardon his son. Instead he has expressed, and shown, unswerving love and support to his son, but has drawn the line at interfering in the judicial process. 


It seems clear that the president's refusal to do so is not motivated by the prospect of political gain. While his integrity may register with only a few of America's complacent and largely oblivious voters, there could be a more subtle effect. The Democrats have had a consistent and sometimes fatal problem, now more than a decade old, of appearing oblivious to the fears of Americans faced with economic pressures. The Democrats, they say with some justice, are too elitist and out of touch. While Joe Biden clearly recognizes that role that income inequality plays in the rise of Trump and Trumpism, his policy fixes may have less effect on the nation's psyche than his son's addiction. Because now, truly, the Bidens are just like us.

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Brian's Biblical Playlist

The Story of Isaac ::: Leonard Cohen

Wandering Boy ::: Randy Newman

Wrong Things ::: Paul Butterfield’s Better Days

Dignity ::: Bob Dylan

Tears of Rage ::: The Band

River of Love ::: T Bone Burnett

Black Eyed Dog ::: Nick Drake

Cold Blue Steel & Sweet Fire ::: Joni Mitchell

Highway 61 Revisited :::: Johnny Winter

Sin City ::: The Flying Burrito Brothers

The Needle & The Damage Done ::: Neil Young