If you have ever scrolled past a tweet from Donald Trump Jr., or caught one of his Fox News appearance playing on an airport television, then you have basically already read his new book. Its very first line reads, “I’M NOT MAD,” but he is mad—about the left, social justice warriors, the Squad, “fake news,” Hillary Clinton, and snowflake college students. Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us is 300 pages of bad memes about gender identity and Jussie Smollett lengthened into chapters. It is a pointless book by a pointless man. And yet, there I was on a Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan, telling the clerk ringing me up at a Barnes & Noble that I was a reporter, lest she think I was one of Candace Owens’s fellow travelers.
It would be a waste of time to dissect the book’s historical inaccuracies or Don Jr.’s crass mischaracterization of people who don’t look or think like him. At this point, there is nothing to be gained by calling him a hypocrite on immigration, or violently ignorant about racism, or painfully obtuse about the history of the Democratic Party. It’s a waste to point out that Don Jr.’s perception of college students is as wildly anecdotal, exaggerated, and deluded as his views on Antifa. Donald Trump Jr. is a 41-year-old man who, despite a lifetime of incredible wealth and privilege, revels in his perceived victimhood. He thinks times are tough for straight, white, Christian, cisgender men in America and says as much just a few pages in, claiming that “as the son of a rich white guy living in 2019, I’m essentially not allowed to have an opinion anymore, let alone express that opinion in public.”
You have already read this book if you’ve heard one sentence out of his mouth. More interesting than any of that is viewing Triggered as a wealth of freaky Trump family tales meant to seem relatable or charming that instead provide a bizarre glimpse into Don Jr.’s emotional life and self-perception. His riffs about soy lattes and a dystopic “gender-neutral AOC administration” are a distraction from these stories, which stuck with me more than his opinion on micro-aggressions.
As a start on this journey, we have Don reflecting on the time Ivanka broke a chandelier in the family’s Greenwich, Connecticut home and blamed him for it: “My mother proceeded to beat the crap out of me (she broke a wooden spoon on my ass, if I remember correctly), even though I had no idea what was going on,” he wrote. Ivanka eventually confessed, but evaded punishment. “As usual, Ivanka got off scot-free, and I’ve been plotting my revenge ever since... Ivanka if you’re reading, when you least expect it, expect it!”
In another book, written by another man, it’s possible that this would be a charming wink at a sibling. But it’s impossible to untangle these kinds of stories from the wealth of reporting on the strange psychodrama the Trump children are engaged in to win their father’s approval and claim more of the corrupt family pie for themselves.
In fact, the book is largely a reflection of Don Jr.’s obsession with his father (or, who he refers to as “DJT”): the breathless way in which he recalls his father’s collectedness on election night, fawning over his work ethic, acting as father’s cheerleader. Don Jr. was alleged to have had a strained relationship with his father growing up, but you wouldn’t know that reading Triggered. Instead, Don Jr. twists many of his father’s most dickish actions into proof of his brilliance.
While his mother was a physical disciplinarian, the future president of the United States was partial to mind games, according to Don Jr.:
My mother had old-school Eastern European ideas about raising a child. If she thought you’d done something wrong, she’d whack you before she said a word. My father used a more psychological technique: he’d have one of “those” talks with you, and you’d walk away thinking that whatever you’d done wrong was the stupidest thing in the world. He was good at guilt trips.
When Don Jr. was getting average grades at boarding school, his father told him: “These grades are fine... if you want to be average.” Again, this kind of story from anyone else may resonate, but decades of reporting about Donald Trump’s general disinterest in his own children changes how a reader might receive it. Still, Don Jr. writes that he found this absolutely inspirational: “It was as though he put a rocket up my butt.”
When Don Jr. isn’t crafting Triggered into a personal love letter to his father, he uses it to disassociate from his life as a rich kid. Again, it’s what we already see on his Instagram, but more desperate. The man does not know what he wants to be: proud beneficiary of the one percent or adoptee of blue-collar America. He tries to embrace both, the charmed life of a child who was chauffeured around in limos but was never like those other Upper East Side brats:
As the child of one of our country’s wealthiest men, I was placed squarely in the top 1 percent of our society from birth. As much as the press seemed to want me to be ashamed of that or apologize for it, I’m not and I won’t. As the son of a rich white man, I know I’m not allowed to have an opinion, let alone voice it these days. I do recognize I’ve been blessed, but I was blessed with parents who taught me a work ethic and the value of a dollar. I knew that my father would never give me a dime that I hadn’t worked for an earned myself.
The liberal press will tell you that I got into Wharton because my father’s donations to the school, but they won’t tell you about how hard I worked for the grades to get in on my own. The press portrayed me as a rich brat from one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country, but they won’t tell you how I spent every summer in communist Czechoslovakia when I was a kid or the manual labor I did growing up for my father (I remember my father saying, “If you’re going to build a building, you better know how to dig a foundation”) or that I spend weeks sleeping on the couches of my hunting buddies, or about the twelve-hour days I worked at Trump Org. And, it didn’t take long for them to start calling me a white supremacist. When they run out of lies about us Trumps, that’s their default.
The left may be out to get Don Jr. and his family, but he also knows he has his fans. Early on in Triggered, Don Jr. boasts of drawing a large crowd at a campaign event in Colorado. Hillary Clinton apparently only attracted a fraction of the audience a few days prior. “I distinctly remember the moment I began to sense something special was happening,” he wrote.
Something special was happening, and this is when Don Jr. manages to see himself most clearly in the book. With his father’s presidential run and eventual presidency, Don Jr. went from the forgettable son of a minor celebrity turned reality show minion to something like a right-wing media star. Like the rest of his life, it was entirely dependent on his father’s success, but he has managed, in recent years, to carve out a distinct niche.
Take, for example, this observation he made when attending a frat party with Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk: “Now, I consider myself a pretty handsome guy (Hey, I’m a Trump. What’d you expect?), but I had never thought of myself as girls-climbing-onto-a-picnic-table-to-get-at-me handsome. But I was that night.” Don Jr. even has a balcony named after him at Turning Point USA’s Phoenix headquarters now. His own legacy, quite literally, cemented.
The scene was a little different on Tuesday at the Barnes & Noble in Midtown, where Don Jr. was scheduled to do a 6 p.m. book signing. Once inside, I eyed the store’s mounting security presence in anticipation of his arrival. Men with devices in their ears were whispering to each other and guards were setting up a checkpoint by the store’s entrance. I asked an employee if all of this was for the Don Jr. event. He confirmed, looking less than thrilled about the ordeal.
A small line had formed by 4:30, with one older woman standing at the front wearing a red Trump hat. Around 5 p.m., a man showed up, wearing a Trump shirt underneath a heavy jacket. By then, the line slinked around the southeast corner of 46th street. It was a presence, but it wasn’t a scene. As the line grew, the woman at the front and eventually unfurled a Trump 2020 sign. She held it proudly as hordes of New Yorkers and tourists passed her by, happily unaware that the president’s son was inside, trying yet again to capitalize on the family name.