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Boldness trumps truth for the talented Mr. Santos

Boldness trumps truth for the talented Mr. Santos

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Politician George Santos stands in front of the House of Representatives and talks on the phone in Washington, DC George Santos stands in front of the House of Representatives chamber in Washington, DC on January 3 © Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

When George Santos set out to hatch his campaign biography, he did so with all the fidelity of a Russian internet troll creating an online dating profile.

The Catholic Brazilian-born Santos, who was running for Congressman in Long Island, said he was “a proud American Jew” and claimed his maternal grandparents escaped Nazi persecution in Belgium. Later, after The Forward found out that those grandparents were Brazilian-born, Santos instead described himself to another newspaper as “Jewish.”

The 34-year-old Republican also hadn’t worked at Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, according to a biography, or graduated from New York University or Baruch College. Or any college, for that matter. The list goes on.

And it worked. In November, Santos claimed the previously Democratic district in one of the Republican Party’s greatest triumphs in the midterm elections.

New York’s Gatsby-esque, fake-it-til-you-make-it ethos shifts from chutzpah to outright delusion all too easily

Even in a Congress that boasts its share of lunatics, liars and voter denials, Santos appears to be setting a new standard for cheating. He is now being investigated for fraud in New York and his native Brazil. Tom Suozzi, his Democratic predecessor, wrote in The New York Times that he expressed sadness at “being replaced by an imposter.”

And yet . . . I must confess a certain perverse admiration. Lying the way Santos did requires reserves of audacity, creativity and nerve most people can hardly imagine. And where else but in New York could someone lie about being Jewish to gain political advantage?

It turns out that an age when most things can be discovered with just a few keystrokes is, paradoxically, a good time for fabulists. Around the time Santos’ lies were exposed, Sam Bankman-Fried, the boyish crypto geek, was dragged into a Bahamian jail cell and framed by New York prosecutors as millennial Bernie Madoff who had stolen hundreds of millions of dollars in investor funds. He denies this.

Many politicians from both parties have fibbed about their achievements and accomplishments, including President Biden. But for the uber-liars, the way was paved by the former US commander-in-chief, a chronically bankrupt real estate developer, who managed to convince his grades that he was a brilliant businessman and then sold them for “the big lie.” The 2020 election was rigged.

Like Trump, the big liars have great charisma. Often their lies are about things we wish were true. For example, I suspect that the Ukrainian scammer who successfully posed as Rothschild at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf club succeeded in part because its nouveau riche members were all too eager to pretend they were dating old people Mix. world money.

Like Trump, big liars are unyielding. I remember a former classmate sharing the wisdom passed down from his Texas oilman father: “They catch you in a lie son, just move on. Jump right into another lie. Don’t stop.” True to his form, Santos didn’t move much when confronted. What critics saw as gross untruths were, he stressed, merely “resume embellishments”.

In New York City, they say you’re never more than a few feet from a rat. Or a liar, I would add. The city’s Gatsby-esque, fake-it-till-you-make-it ethos shifts all too easily from chutzpah to outright deceit—in terms of one’s background, accomplishments, bank account, charitable endeavors, and so on. Lies cover shame. They can also come in handy when trying to unload bundles of poisonous securities.

If only the talented Mr. Santos had gone into private equity. But he’s in Washington, where his flowery stupidity makes it hard to gauge the consequences of his dishonesty. How does it compare, for example, to that of conservative Supreme Court justices, who assured lawmakers during confirmation hearings that a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion was established law—only to have it repealed?

Meanwhile, the blame game has begun over what made his absurd rise possible. Fingers have been pointed at various times at a neglectful New York Democratic Party, the decay of local news outlets that would have scrutinized such candidates in the past (though at least one publication did), and the moral rot at the heart of the Trump Republican Party . Many of Santos’ suburban voters are likely less interested in his integrity than in his promises of lower taxes and less crime.

I suspect that in this bipartisan era there is less public appetite for hard truth than for narrative and tribal identity. George Santos, whoever he is, can still give his followers exactly what they want.

Email Joshua joshua.chaffin@ft.com

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