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In Hunter Biden’s verdict, proof that even strong safety nets fail

Hunter Biden walked out of a Delaware federal courthouse Tuesday afternoon guilty. A jury found he lied on gun purchase forms and illegally possessed a firearm for 11 days. He walked between his wife Melissa Cohen-Biden and his mother, first lady Jill Biden, all three walking briskly but not frantically. So, it was obvious in the photos documenting their departure that they were holding hands. This gesture was not vague; it was crystal clear. And that was intentional. This family lived. United.

“Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support,” the president said in a statement. “Nothing will ever change that.”

As he left the court, Hunter Biden looked the same as he did during much of the trial. He was dressed in a white shirt and midnight suit with a matching tie, a small American flag pinned to his lapel. He also wore the kind of serene expression favored by people who have lived their lives in the public eye. It is an expression that prevents prying observers from reading the nuances of their emotions; it’s an expression that keeps those emotions under guard.

In the courtroom, when the verdict was read, the accused did not flinch and it was he who seemed to comfort those around him. Perhaps he knew this verdict was likely. Perhaps he had simply prepared himself for the worst. His lawyer, Father Lowell, attempted to tread a narrow path, aiming to convince the jury that in the period surrounding his purchase of the Colt revolver in October 2018, Biden was not using illegal drugs; he wasn’t addicted to crack. But in the popular understanding of addiction, we have been told: once an addict, always an addict. The question is whether a person is in recovery, whether they are able to calm the demons even if they never fully exorcise them.

Unlike many trials, this jury was not faced with a storm of complicated paperwork. They did not have to tirelessly wade through the testimony of countless expert witnesses, drowning them in data. The facts of this case boiled down to a few all-important questions posed in a simple form – a question that bears too much responsibility for regulating who can buy a gun in our over-armed society. The story of this affair spoke of heartbreak and sorrow, of wasted opportunities and potential, of illness and recovery, of privileges transformed into burdens. But the essence of this case was defined by a sadness that too many families know well.

In his remarks after the verdict, special counsel David Weiss argued that he was not making a case for drug addiction: “This case was about the illegal choices that (the) defendant made while in the throes of an addiction. » Yet this simple sentence contains all the fear and terror of so many addicts and those who love them. What types of choices will a person make when in the throes of addiction? What thoughtless words could they say? What reckless acts will they commit? What unforgivable could they do? What could they do to make the misery unbearable?

In an interview with CNN, Juror 10 spoke of sadness. That’s the emotion that surfaced when Hallie Biden, the widow of Hunter’s brother Beau, testified about her romantic relationship with the accused and her own addiction. It was this feeling that erupted when the defense called Naomi Biden to testify and she described her elation and despair as she witnessed her father’s successes and failures in rehab.

The case, Juror 10 said, “was very sad.”

Members of the Biden family were always present during the trial: on the witness stand and in the audience. Their daily commitment to Hunter was a reminder of how addiction spreads from the addict to those around him. There are countless innocent bystanders, as well as would-be saviors who throw themselves onto the battlefield as they try to put out an exploding grenade and wonder how they too were so damaged. The loyalty of friends and family also served as a reminder of Hunter Biden’s immense privilege. So many addicts find themselves left to their own devices, without financial support, without a circle of confidants. Without the president as a father. As Hunter Biden noted in his post-trial statement: “I am most grateful today for the love and support I received last week from Melissa, from my family, from my friends and my community that I am not disappointed by the result. »

President Biden met with his son, Hunter, upon landing in Delaware on June 11, hours after Hunter was convicted of lying about purchasing a gun in 2018. (Video: The Washington Post)

Yet we can marvel at how someone who seemed to have so much going for him got to this point: guilty on every level. What should we think of such wasted generosity? It seems that even the most tightly woven safety net is sometimes not strong enough to break a compulsive behavior. autumn.

The time elapsed between the announcement of the verdict by the jury and the moment when that verdict was read in court was brief. The first lady, despite traveling to France alongside her husband to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, was still present in the courtroom for much of the trial. But she was not present when the verdict was read; she arrived a few minutes later. Traffic could be cleared for the first lady. Secret Service agents can monitor the comings and goings of those who might seek to greet her. But the court did not wait for her to make the jury’s verdict on her son public. The process continued.

“No one in this country is above the law,” said Special Prosecutor Weiss. The jury made up of six men and six women made this clear. Then Weiss added: “Hunter Biden should be no more responsible than any other citizen found guilty of this same behavior. ” In other words, the accused should not serve as a repository of this divided country’s animosity toward his father’s administration.

In interviews after the verdict, jurors said politics did not enter into their deliberations. They did not discuss the president. And the president has not spoken out on his son’s legal problems. Some jurors barely recognized the first lady. Our divisive politics may have helped strengthen the prosecution in this case. But the weight of this ordeal, its heartbreak, was a unifying sadness. It is a lamentable wail of “what ifs” that echoes across the country, a despair that tests the strength of even the strongest safety nets.