“There’s been a fair amount of speculation as to where my own political career might take me,” Don Jr. notes with satisfaction. This book provides an answer, presenting its author as the natural heir to the MAGA movement: a troller of lefties, warrior of culture and self-described “s--- -talker par excellence.” Just like Dad! Yet Don Jr. also attempts to establish some differences, even if stylistic. His positions on immigration are no less hard-line than his father’s, for instance, yet he invokes his own immigrant roots and friendships with immigrants — legal ones, of course, the good ones — to soften the edges. And more important, Don Jr. portrays himself as an authentic representative of the aggrieved heartland, in some ways more so than his father. He dedicates his book to “the deplorables,” saluting the patriotism and values of the everyman Trump supporter. “I am proudly one of you,” he writes. And he almost seems to believe it.
Throughout “Triggered,” Don Jr. claims both his political and familial inheritance. “From the moment the nurses at New York Hospital inked the name ‘Donald John Trump Jr.’ onto my birth certificate,” he writes, “you might say I’ve been following in the footsteps of my father.” He claims to share his father’s “killer instinct” and writes that speaking bluntly is “just one of those things that got passed down in the genes!” The connection is not just genetic but mystical: “The energy that flows through my father is the same energy that flowed through my grandfather and great-grandfather before him. . . . The same energy also flows through me.” At times, he even seems to conflate the two Donald Trumps: “I fight back,” Don Jr. writes. “That’s what we do.”
So when he brags about receiving so many death threats (“second only to my father”), Don Jr.’s message to the base is clear: The left hates me nearly as much as they hate my dad, so you should love me nearly as much as you love him.
There are clear parallels between Don Jr.’s “Triggered” and his father’s “Trump: The Art of the Deal,” both of which were published when the authors were 41. Don Jr: “We would arrive early in the morning as the crews were setting up, and I would walk with my dad while he inspected the concrete foundations and metal stairways.” Trump Sr.: “I remember very well as a kid, accompanying my father to inspect buildings. . . . We’d spend hours in the building, checking every refrigerator and sink, looking over the boiler and the roof and the lobby.” The son also lingers on his various construction projects and real estate deals and how they were completed “on time and under budget,” another standard Trumpism.
The latest book is also littered with familiar Trump put-downs, talking points, omissions and pats on the back. “Crooked Hillary” and “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” make cameos. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is derided as “FullofSchiff.” Robert Mueller is an “old, over-the-hill puppet,” although Don Jr. still invokes Mueller’s investigation to contend that there was “no collusion” with Russia and “no obstruction” of justice (even though Mueller’s report, particularly on obstruction, was hardly so definitive). Don Jr. insists that his father’s opposition to Barack Obama was about policy and not race, making no mention of how Trump built his political brand on the lie of birtherism. And he trashes the news media — only his father’s Twitter feed and his own provide the “unfiltered truth,” he asserts — yet is quick to point out news stories discussing his political potential and popularity with conservative audiences. He dismisses a recent Atlantic cover story story about his rivalry with his sister Ivanka Trump as “mostly false,” then proceeds to quote portions he finds personally flattering.
Don Jr. also displays his father’s eagerness to stoke culture wars and deploy wedge issues, devoting entire chapters to the fake 2019 attack on actor Jussie Smollett and to transgender athletes “smashing women’s hard-earned records” in weightlifting and track and field. Don Jr. appears obsessed with questions of gender identity — he says the ultimate Democratic presidential candidate would be “a nonbinary minority who identifies as a dolphin” — and never ceases to trumpet his supposed good looks (“hey, I’m a Trump”) and his tenacious heterosexuality. Don Jr. and his wife, Vanessa Trump, divorced in 2018, and in his book he constantly brings up his new relationship with former Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle.
A fixation on masculinity is at the core of Don Jr.’s efforts to appeal to his father’s base. He recounts the summers he spent as a child in his mother’s native Czechoslovakia, where his maternal grandfather showed him how to shoot a bow, start a fire, swing an ax and throw a knife — “all that guy stuff,” he explains. (“I butchered hundreds of chickens in my childhood,” he boasts.) Don Jr. looks back on his years at an elite boarding school in rural Pennsylvania and his time at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School to prove his Rust Belt bona fides, and cites his sojourn hunting and fishing in the Rockies after college as proof of his regular-guyness. “Out in the woods, no one knew I was Donald Trump’s son, and I don’t think anyone would have cared if they did know,” he writes.
Like so many second-generation dynastic hopefuls, Don Jr. attempts to be his father and his own man as well. For all his efforts to seize the Trump legacy — by my count, the phrases “my father” and “my dad” appear 299 times in this 294-page book — Don Jr. also wants to establish distance from the Trump glitz. “I didn’t take to the opulent lifestyle the way some children of billionaires do,” he writes. Don Jr. stresses that he got along well with the former New York City cops who provided security at Trump Tower (“I’m still friendly and go shooting with a few of them”) and that some of his early relationships were with the chefs who worked for his parents. He means to highlight his relatability, but the anecdote also underscores his childhood isolation. It is, inadvertently, one of the most revealing moments in “Triggered.”
Yet it is such connections that inform Don Jr.’s political self-image. While his father may appeal to the struggling working-class voter, the 2016 campaign convinced Don Jr. that he is the working-class voter. “I was able to talk to people who came to events in a way that other surrogates, even candidates, couldn’t,” he writes. “I had spent most of my youth out in the Rust Belt. In a very real sense, these were my people. Unlike many New York City socialites, I didn’t have to try to connect with them. I was one of them.” The reference to “New York City socialites” could be a dig at Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, and their own longings of succession. While Ivanka and Jared played the inside game, landing favored White House positions, Don Jr. went outside, playing to Fox News and the base. Rather than try to influence Dad, he sought to emulate him.
Don Jr.’s generic tales of Rust Belt affinity feel awfully pat at times. He describes a campaign encounter with a Midwestern carpenter who backed Trump but felt torn by his family’s longtime Democratic allegiances. Don Jr. gives him the pseudonym “Rusty” and convinces him that today’s socialist, amnesty-loving Democrats are not like those of old. He meets an Ethiopian immigrant at a Colorado coffee shop who tells him that she voted for Trump because of his immigration policies. “Your father’s right,” she whispered. “People who think they can just come into America and get whatever they want makes it so much harder for people like me.” And shortly after Trump called for a shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, a livery cab driver whom Don Jr. describes as “Middle Eastern” told him he agreed. “I’ve heard your father’s comments. I think he’s one hundred percent right. I know it’s the ones who are preaching hate, oppressing women, killing people who ruin it for us all.”
How convenient to always run into suitably representative strangers eager to affirm your worldview in perfectly quotable sentences, and to have the presence of mind to take verbatim notes!
Don Jr. looks back on his Republican National Convention speech as “the spark that lit the fire of my political life.” Reading through “Triggered,” it’s easy to find elements of future stump speeches. Like every politician, he speaks of his “enduring” love for the United States and how he’s fighting for “my children and yours.” He emphasizes that some Democrats are “good people” who even voted for his father but that party leaders have veered toward socialism. He draws on his childhood visits to communist-era Czechoslovakia to inform his disdain for state planning, a line of attack one can imagine Don Jr. using in a future race to assail the progressive Democratic wing. While defending the Trump administration’s border policies — he describes today’s migrants as an “invasion” — Don Jr. highlights his own immigrant background. “I come from a family of immigrants,” he writes, noting his Czech mother, Scottish grandmother and German great-grandfather. “I have many good friends who are immigrants, and I have met thousands of immigrants who contribute financially, socially, and educationally to this great nation. That’s just not the case with far too many illegal immigrants.”
And, of course, there is the frontiersman persona, which Don Jr. pushes so hard. Among the book’s many photographs are images of the author fishing, scuba diving, hunting and hiking. “Trekking down a mountain in the Yukon Territory of Canada with a caribou rack,” reads one of the photo captions. “It took several trips to retrieve all the meat.”
There’s plenty of meat in “Triggered,” and all of it is red. Here, the outdoors are not a place for reflection or introspection. Donald Trump Jr. went to the woods because he wished to troll deliberately. In his introduction, he summarizes his political project — and any future campaign — in one line: “Anything that makes the veins in a few liberal foreheads bulge out is fine by me.”