Donald Trump Jr. came in for some merciless mocking when he posed in this newspaper in a grunge-era flannel shirt, sitting awkwardly atop a tree stump at the family estate, looking glum and lonely. A rejected Cialis ad was one of the kinder suggestions.
But look deeper. Buried in that profile was something — a saffron-thin thread of hope — that could keep his father from hastening the early death of the planet. The elder Trump has repeatedly indicated his intent to withdraw American cooperation from the global agreement to negate climate change, yet another middle finger from this president to the rest of the world, and to his grandchildren. His budget would let poisons flow through American rivers and be belched into the sky overhead.
The other Donald Trump, the kid with the burden of going through life with that name, may be the only person who can stop him. In the profile, junior comes across as a little boy lost, emotionally abandoned after the divorce of parents whose every hour is spent in bold face. Sent away to boarding school. Finding some solace hunting and fishing with a grandfather in Czechoslovakia. As he tries to navigate around the toxic swagger of the old man, he relishes his time in nature. It’s not, mind you, listening to yellow-rump warblers on spring days. It’s killing things. Pheasant and deer. And bigger things, elephants and leopards, creatures so magnificent that most people cringe at the thought of ending their lives in a sporting pursuit.
But there was another famous New Yorker who did much the same thing after going through a long stretch of emotional trauma — Teddy Roosevelt. And there you find the saffron-thin thread of hope. For on the desk of Donald Trump Jr. is a bronze statue of T.R. — the most muscular defender of creation in this nation’s history.
Step one is for Trump Jr. to read up on the bronze. If he hasn’t already, he should try Edmund Morris’s “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” and David McCullough’s “Mornings on Horseback” for starters.
And yes, he hunted, pretty much anything. For Roosevelt, one reason to preserve all those living things was to have an opportunity to kill them later. But his love of nature was deep and consistent. “When I hear of the destruction of a species,” he wrote a friend, “I feel as if all the works of some great writer had perished.”
No doubt, Roosevelt would have detested Trump. “It tires me to talk to rich men,” he once said. “You expect a man of millions to be worth hearing, but as a rule, they don’t know anything outside their own business.”
But Trump Jr. certainly likes Roosevelt. If he takes away just one thing from the president who launched a century of progress, it should be his thunderous pitch for posterity in his New Nationalism speech of 1910. He said, “Of all the questions which can come before this nation there isn’t one which compares in importance with the central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”
That seem rather obvious — everywhere but inside the Trump White House. The president’s budget blueprint would gut the core mission of the agency charged with ensuring clear air and water. It would cripple the departments that oversee parks and national forests. And, in another stab at his base, he would make it much more difficult to get in and out of the open spaces of America, eliminating the federal assistance that keeps many rural airports from closing.
Of course, at a time when Trump’s other proposals would literally mean death to poor people newly deprived of health care and would stop vital cancer research that could save millions of lives, the concerns of the natural world can seem secondary.
Still, that’s the only area where Trump Jr. could match his passions with a policy block. His tweets, including the recent hit-and-miss attack on the mayor of London, show him to be an otherwise meanspirited, incurious and accuracy-challenged chip off the old block.
Sickly as a child, heartbroken as a young man over the loss of his wife and mother on the same day, Teddy Roosevelt found his salvation in nature, the American wild. “I owe more than I can ever express to the West,” he said.
In a similar vein, young Trump, who gives the impression of somebody who knows he will never outrun his father’s shadow, said, “I owe the outdoors way too much” for keeping him out of trouble. One man repaid the debt. The other still could.