We’re Living in the Golden Age of Garbage Sons

Everywhere you look, tortured white men are showcasing the fine art of failing up

Presenting the Garbage Sons: Donald Trump Jr., Hunter Biden, and Kendall Roy. Photos: Getty Images, HBO

Hunter Biden is the true poster boy for a generation of Garbage Sons.

The 49-year-old is currently on a mea culpa tour of sorts to publicly atone for a lifetime of profiting from a personal and professional identity centered around being “the son of Joe Biden.” And while he may have unwittingly triggered the impeachment inquiry into the president for his work in Ukraine, Hunter’s certainly no hero for the cause. In his first televised interview since the scandal broke, he told ABC News on Tuesday that he used “poor judgment” in taking up lucrative business gigs abroad. Yet he’s adamant that he never leveraged his father’s political status to his personal gain.

Well, mostly.

“I don’t think that there’s a lot of things that would have happened in my life if my last name wasn’t Biden,” Hunter admitted.

It seems like everywhere you look, there’s a Garbage Son coasting on the privilege of their family name. Don Jr. and Eric Trump are obvious examples — they make it so easy to mock their roles as incompetent hype men to their father. And if HBO’s Succession shows us anything, there’s nothing better than watching privileged men fail. The fictional Roy brothers — Connor, Kendall, and Roman — are transparent in their pathetic attempts to impress their father, each tortured by varying degrees of denial and self-loathing.

The open secret is that none of these Garbage Sons are particularly smart, adept, or even that successful in their own right. They’re a special breed of mediocre white men, whose birthright allows them to fuck up and fail up at the same time. Their accomplishments are obviously tied to their family names, which have enabled dynasties to thrive far past their peak. Perhaps until now.

For the first time in his life, Hunter Biden has been forced to publicly reckon with whether his family name brought him power and influence. The Bidens say they have maintained a firewall between the elder’s political dealings and his son’s business exploits, but now they’re under scrutiny. For the first time in Joe Biden’s three-decade-plus quest for the presidency, he has a legitimate shot at securing the Democratic nomination — and now his Garbage Son may jeopardize his campaign.

When writer Adam Levine coined the term “Garbage Sons” for the satirical site ClickHole, it was meant as a parody of the personality quizzes that were ubiquitous online. The Garbage Sons existed solely to torment their father; their comically absurd exploits ranged from childishly banal to devilishly criminal. A later version morphed into the Large Adult Son, a meme pure in its ability to kneecap the pride in men who were trapped as boys who will always be boys but never full-grown men. As Jia Tolentino said of the Trump sons in the New Yorker, “This is classic large-adult-son behavior: alarming, with a whiff of the surreal.”

Trump, like all Garbage Sons, would like us to think that he’s the underdog.

Elsewhere, the Large Adult Sons are now being overshadowed by the trashier versions of themselves. What makes Succession such a guilty pleasure is to see the thinly veiled desperation of its central characters. The show is loosely based on the Murdoch family, but the plot is almost secondary to the characters, who are varying degrees of the worst types of terrible people — all blinded by their own wealth, privilege, and attempts to accrue power. The three male heirs to the family dynasty are each pathetic in their own way, forcing viewers to pity them while also rooting for them to fail.

Family fuckups bring out our worst and judgiest social instincts. We keep them close for our own selfish purposes — they make us feel superior. It’s like watching a reality TV show where the characters seem self-satisfied on the surface, but you know deep down they’re likely miserable. Behind Hunter Biden’s cocaine-laced joy rides and tabloid tales of hooking up with his late brother’s wife, there’s a human who’s obviously struggling with addiction and grief. We may cheer on their attempts to realign their lives, mainly because we know they’re likely to fail.

That’s not to excuse their bumbling idiocy. We may mock their failures, but Garbage Sons will always have the last laugh in being afforded second, third, fourth, and fifth chances. One mustn’t underestimate their ego-filled desperation to prove they actually deserve everything they’ve been given.

After all, Donald Trump is arguably the original Garbage Son. He inherited an empire from his father and nearly ran it into the ground with gaudy exploits, back-to-back bankruptcies, and an outlandish personal brand that made him the snickering butt of jokes. His desire to prove everyone wrong propelled him to seek the highest political office. Trump, like all Garbage Sons, would like us to think he’s the underdog, and his messy lack of polish is his greatest appeal.

But people are finally realizing we’re living in the Garbage Sons era. The only question is whether America will take out the trash.

Editor/writer. Words in GEN, The Atlantic, Glamour, The Intercept, MSNBC, NBC News, NYT, Vice, Vox, and more.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store