One peculiarity of American conservatives is that they love reading. This may seem strange, given that the man they worship (or at least pretend to) has boasted about not reading books and prefers one-page memos with lots of pictures to full-length policy papers and security briefings. But the Amazon Politics & Social Sciences charts tell a different story. Along with the usual airport books and bestsellers people under 70 have heard of are an assortment of entries by F-tier Fox News guests and random cranks either detailing the plot to stop Trump or gloating over how the last plot to stop Trump failed.
In the current interregnum between Mueller Report told-you-so books and the inevitable rash of “Ukraine impeachment hoax” books comes Donald Trump Jr.’s recent debut, which has the groan-inducing title Triggered and the tagline “this is the book that the leftist elites don't want you to read.” Bucking the warning, however, I read it.
Go check out https://t.co/auV52UTPMQ to easily send your favorite leftist commie a copy of my new book #Triggered. Maybe they’ll learn something. Also, What’s better than capitalism and trolling combined???— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) October 29, 2019
Answer: NOTHING! Get after it. 🇺🇸 https://t.co/PzFAFeBBFV
The bulk of Triggered is interchangeable with any other work of pro-Trump pandering. The same applause lines and clip shows that pad out documentaries by Dinesh D’Souza and Diamond and Silk are here in literary form, albeit without any of their wit and panache. This is Conservative Content, consumer tested, homogenized and mass-produced. There are at least three gleeful recountings of Trump winning the presidential election three years ago scattered throughout; the third comes in the form of a dedicated chapter titled “ELECTION NIGHT.” Did you know Hillary thought she was going to win, and so did Rachel Maddow? But she didn’t win, and Trump did, and CNN was so mad!
The book has the usual mind-numbing explanations of which Democrat wrongly emailed which transcript to whatever committee without the requisite subpoena during the Mueller investigation, because people enjoy reading that kind of thing for reasons I cannot explain. There are teary victim narratives about how antifa protesters broke a window in 2017 and thus sent the country into a state of virtual anarchy. There’s the polemical history of the Democratic Party which takes care to point out Abraham Lincoln was actually a Republican and Democrats are the real racists before unironically defending the whites-only immigration policy of the 1890s. None of this is new, and people who get far more facetime with the president than his worst son have already published better books in the same vein, but original insight is not the point in this industry. This is what an audience undiscerning enough to want to read hundreds of pages of Trump Jr.’s prose expects from a paperback; it’s Fox News you can read on the toilet.
The worst sections of the book are specific to the author, whose life story is both heavily embellished and incredibly boring. Shockingly, Don Jr. thinks everyone has been very, very unfair in painting him as an ultra-privileged elephant-murdering low-functioning sociopath. As a result, he really wants you to know that he can shoot guns and has been outside before, and he actually did a lot of hard work for his dad, a man apparently defined by his love of manual labor. “I didn’t take to the opulent lifestyle the way some children of billionaires do,” he writes.
This is Fox News you can read on the toilet: consumer tested, homogenized and mass-produced.
According to Don, the private boarding schools and Ivy League university he attended were actually really difficult and character-building, and the summers he worked towel duty at Trump resorts taught him what real work is like, unlike the other rich kids who were “taking limousines to school, partying in the New York clubs, and going away to expensive resorts for spring break.” Those kids playing around at the resort would never understand the burden of having to do a job there one summer before inheriting the whole thing from your dad.
He makes a lot out of a trip to his mother’s birthplace, Czechoslovakia, that he took at age five and remembers with stunning clarity for a man who thinks Saturday Night Live is called S&L. “On my visits to the country, I experienced the bread lines and the poverty myself,” he claims, but he also repeats the bizarre and debunked claim that his mother was on a 1972 Olympic ski team that never existed. Unlike “new-age Starbucks-chugging socialists in Brooklyn,” the grizzled blue-collar workers in Czechoslovakia understood the horrors of socialism, which he compares not to the experience of ordinary Americans, but to the view from the roof of Trump Tower. “I could sense that there was something underneath all those tall buildings and twinkling lights in Manhattan that was absent in the Soviet Union.” If this book had been published in the 1980s, its clumsy juxtaposition of austere industrial communism and gilded Reagan-era excess might have been used by the Czech state for the exact opposite purpose.
If not for his brother’s legendary op-ed about hypocrisy and the movie Gladiator in The Hill last month, Don Jr. would be unmatched in his ability to craft unintentionally funny turns of phrase and insults that can easily be turned around on him. The first words of the book are “I’m not mad.” He describes Fred Trump, who was once arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally and was sued by the federal government for denying apartments to black tenants, as having “strict Germanic ways” and boasts that “Even late into life, in his 90s with Alzheimer’s disease, he went into the office” after repeatedly comparing his work habits to the president’s.
After spilling endless ink about his father’s excellent parenting, Don fondly remembers Eric and himself being allowed to hang out and play Nintendo with Michael Jackson; the purpose of this anecdote is to prove Don Sr. isn’t racist. He brings up Nintendo again later, lamenting that “Unfortunately, the technology in use by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today is about as up-to-date as Nintendo.” I have no earthly idea what that is supposed to mean.
Naturally, he fulfills the promise of the title Triggered by explaining and derisively appropriating terms “social justice warriors” might have used circa 2012. “If you’re over the age of about 35 or you haven’t spent the last few years on a college campus,” he writes, “you probably have no idea why this book is called Triggered.” He has this almost exactly backwards. The target audience for this book has been watching Tucker Carlson make fun of trigger warnings, microaggressions and safe spaces for an eternity now. They are, in fact, the only people who still care about any of this.
The original student activists who provided the impetus for the conservative backlash to campus politics during the Obama years have long since graduated, and the terms they were supposedly so enamored of are seldom used by anyone at all anymore, let alone people who were born after 2000. If you are just starting college, chances are you have only ever known “safe spaces” as the subject of regurgitated grandpa humor, because the last person to ask for one without irony did so when you were 11. This has been a game of telephone between elderly newspaper columnists who heard about some crazy shit college students did from other elderly newspaper columnists for years now, and the source material remains a single Jonathan Chait article from 2012.
Don Jr. is presumably aware of this anachronism on some level, even if he himself is still tickled pink by knee-slappers like “did you just assume my gender?” and “I identify as an attack helicopter.” When he includes parentheticals promising to explain what a microaggression is, the purpose is not to explain, but to wink to a readership who has heard this exact lecture one hundred times before and eagerly awaits the hundred and first. Like everything else in the book, these are risk-free applause lines for an audience that craves repetition and rhetorical comfort food. It seems unnecessary to even point out the irony.