Why the George Santos scandal is historically unprecedented

In ancient Jerusalem, the elderly King Solomon said “there is nothing new under the sun.” Solomon never knew George Santos.

Thanks to the revelations of a seemingly endless series of lies about his background, the newly elected Republican congressman from Long Island was a phenomenon without precedent in American history. Within weeks of taking office, he became a national celebrity without really doing anything. Not that he has managed to pull the spotlight just the way you like him Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) Or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) when they attracted a media frenzy as first-term members of Congress. It is simply that his story is so fanciful and absurd that there are no clear precedents for it.

Since the New York Times first reported About Santos’ lies about his religion, education, and biography in late December, things escalated. Nearly every aspect of Santos’ life has been called into question, and his attempts at explanation grow increasingly outdated – from his worth to piercings. Try to insist that he never said he was a Jew, but that he was a “Jew,” which led to his initial flat denial of ever having dressed as a youth in Brazil before In the end he gave up told reporters in the baggage section at LaGuardia Airport that he “had fun at a festival.”

Santos’ lies also led to investigations from local and federal law enforcement agencies. The New York Republican stares at questions about his campaign finances and how he’s suddenly so capable for a loan His congressional campaign $700,000 after They are expelled For failing to pay the rent as well as taking them to court for Non-payment of debts. exist complaints About his conduct submitted to the Federal Election Commission and the House Ethics Committee. There is also an outstanding matter of a decade-old criminal charge in Brazil. Santos has denied this, He tells the New York Post“I am not a criminal here – not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world.”

Sean WilentzBancroft Prize-winning historian at Princeton University, told Vox that Santos was more a figure of American literature than American history, citing Herman Melville the trust between men. “It’s not something a historian can be of much help with,” he said. “There is no example like it.” Not that Santos was anything but an outlier—the hiker is a typical Native American, and nothing more than a slick politician. As Wilentz puts it, it is “made of materials one can identify with”. But that mysterious figure and compulsive liar who ended up on Capitol Hill is still pretty cool. “Grooming happens a fair amount that a lot of people get away with,” Wilentz said. “This is a different arrangement because this is a made-up life.”

He noted that “It’s one thing to be Marjorie Taylor Greene and make all this crazy stuff, and here you just have a blade.” Using another literary reference, Wilentz compared Santos to “the kind of nothingness that drips through all of his novels.” John Le Carre.

Santos has been left in an unusually isolated political position. Local Republicans in and around his district have called for him to resign, and defenses of him by national Republicans are tepid— Rooted in the procedure and precedent rather than any sincere attempt to defend Santos on the merits.

Santos’ jokes became one of the few things both sides could agree on. As one congressman told Vox, “You have Democrats and Republicans texting Santos to each other. It’s really a bipartisan joke.”

However, it also made him a national figure. in Survey from early January From Navigator Research, the majority of Americans had an opinion on him, making him better known than more established and influential politicians like Representatives Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH). else A recent survey from Data for Progress Show that more than 60 percent of Americans have an opinion of him, even more than Greene. Among those who heard of Santos, they always had a negative opinion of him—even Republicans had a largely unfavorable view of him. in his home state, polling It found that Santos was more popular than Hakeem Jeffries, the top Democrat in Congress, and as bad politically in New York as he is nationally.

It’s a level of celebrity that cuts through politics. Santos has already become a staple of late-night TV comedy — he’s served a month in Congress and has been a character on two different casts. Saturday Night Live Sketches – and an obsession with #Resistance on Twitter and MSNBC. His office on Capitol Hill has become a site of constant media surveillance and is being tracked by TMZ cameras at the airport. Even Santos is self-conscious about his new status and has privately expressed concern about becoming a meme.

There’s no telling what strange paths the Santos saga will take next. In recent days, it was linked Cousin of the Russian oligarch (who accused Santos fraud for him) and the accused Defrauding homeless veterans By raising money from a Veteran Service Dog fundraiser. (at Santos Refusal This is amazing.)

Almost every twist and turn his story has so far gone into uncharted territory. While Congress has delivered nearly two and a half centuries of scandals, they all have familiar roots in common human traits such as ambition, sexuality, or corruption. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee watches a stripper Snorkeling in the tidal basin Having been caught drunk in a car with her is unusual, but alcoholism and adultery are less so on Capitol Hill. Even the most archaic offenses – such Senator of the eighteenth century who conspired with the British to invade then-Spanish-held New Orleans—come from motives such as greed or the lust for power that were demonstrated daily by elected officials in both parties.

But Santos is something different. The level and frequency of his seemingly compelling inventions represents a new territory in modern politics.

In the wake of his election, it’s hard to think there will be future members like him – there will likely be more vigorous efforts to check this out at ambitious politicians. Claim To be star volleyball players, they didn’t simply make up the fact that they attended college, let alone played competitive sports there. But if one were to be elected in the future, historians would at least have an analogy.

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