Why the George Santos scandal is so historically unprecedented

In historical Jerusalem, an aged King Solomon noticed “there’s nothing new beneath the solar.” Solomon by no means knew George Santos.

Due to revelations a couple of seemingly countless sequence of lies about his background, the newly elected Republican Congress member from Lengthy Island has been a phenomenon with none precedent in American historical past. Inside weeks of taking workplace, he’s turn into a nationwide superstar with out actually doing something. It’s not that he has actively courted the limelight in the way in which that figures like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) once they attracted a media frenzy as first-term members of Congress. It’s merely that his story is so fantastical and absurd that there are not any clear precedents for it.

Because the New York Occasions first reported on Santos’s lies about his faith, his schooling, and his résumé in late December, issues have spiraled. Nearly each facet of Santos’s life has been drawn into query and his makes an attempt to elucidate have grown more and more labored — from his punchline-worthy try and insist that he by no means mentioned he was Jewish, however that he was “Jew-ish,” to his preliminary agency denial of getting wearing drag as a younger man in Brazil earlier than finally conceding to reporters on the baggage declare at LaGuardia Airport that he simply “had enjoyable at a competition.”

Santos’s lies have additionally resulted in investigations from native and federal legislation enforcement businesses. The New York Republican is staring down questions over his marketing campaign funds and the way he was out of the blue in a position to mortgage his congressional marketing campaign $700,000 after being evicted for failing to pay hire in addition to being taken to courtroom for failing to pay money owed. There are complaints about his conduct filed with the Federal Election Fee and the Home Ethics Committee. There is also the excellent query of a decade-old prison cost in Brazil. Santos has denied this, telling the New York Submit, “I’m not a prison right here — not right here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction on the planet.”

Sean Wilentz, a Bancroft Prize-winning historian at Princeton College, informed Vox that Santos was extra a personality out of American literature than American historical past, citing Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man. “That is nothing {that a} historian might be a lot assistance on,” he mentioned. “There isn’t any instance prefer it.” It’s not that Santos was a wholly overseas object — the huckster is an American archetype, and nothing is extra clichéd than a dishonest politician. As Wilentz put it, he’s “manufactured from supplies that one can determine.” However that such a shadowy determine and compulsive liar wound up on Capitol Hill remains to be exceptional. “Embellishing occurs a good quantity that lots of people get away with,” Wilentz mentioned. “It is a totally different order as a result of this can be a made-up life.”

He famous that “it’s one factor to be Marjorie Taylor Greene and making up all of this loopy stuff, and right here you simply have a cipher.” Utilizing one other literary reference, Wilentz in contrast Santos to the “sort of nothing man that drips all by means of the novels” of John le Carré.

Santos has been left in an unusually remoted political place. Native Republicans in and round his district have referred to as on him to resign, and the defenses provided of him by nationwide Republicans are lukewarm — rooted in process and precedent quite than any honest try and defend Santos on the deserves.

Santos jokes have turn into one of many few issues that each events can agree on. As one member of Congress informed Vox, “you have got Democratic members and Republican members texting memes of Santos to 1 one other. He’s actually a bipartisan joke.”

But it’s additionally made him a nationwide determine. In a ballot from early January from Navigator Analysis, a majority of Individuals had an opinion on him, making him better-known than way more established and influential politicians like Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH). One other latest ballot from Information for Progress confirmed that over 60 % of Individuals had an opinion of him, much more than Greene. Of those that had heard of Santos, they invariably had a destructive opinion of him — even Republicans had an overwhelmingly unfavorable view of him. In his house state, polling discovered that Santos was way more well-known than Hakeem Jeffries, the highest Democrat in Congress, and that he’s simply as politically poisonous in New York as he’s nationally.

It’s a stage of superstar that’s breaking by means of past politics. Santos has already turn into a staple of late-night tv comedy — he’s served one month in Congress and has been a personality in two totally different Saturday Night time Dwell sketches — and an obsession of #resistance Twitter and MSNBC. His workplace on Capitol Hill has turn into the location of a relentless media stakeout and TMZ cameras observe him on the airport. Even Santos is self-aware about his newfound standing and has privately expressed his angst about turning right into a meme.

There isn’t any telling what unusual paths the Santos saga will take subsequent. In latest days, he has been tied to the cousin of a Russian oligarch (who accused Santos of scamming him) and accused of defrauding a homeless veteran by pocketing the cash from a fundraising drive for the veteran’s service canine. (Santos has denied this.)

Nearly each twist and switch his saga has taken up to now has gone into uncharted territory. Whereas Congress has supplied practically two and a half centuries of scandals, they’ve all had acquainted roots in frequent human traits like ambition, intercourse, or venality. The chair of the Home Methods and Means Committee watching a stripper dive into the Tidal Basin after being caught drunk in a automotive together with her is uncommon, however alcoholism and adultery much less so on Capitol Hill. Even the extra archaic crimes — like the 18th-century senator who plotted with the British to overcome then-Spanish-controlled New Orleans — come from impulses like greed or lust for energy which can be demonstrated each day by elected officers in each events.

However Santos is one thing totally different. The extent and frequency of his seemingly compulsive innovations mark new territory in trendy politics.

Within the aftermath of his election, it’s exhausting to assume that there will probably be future members like him — there’ll doubtless be extra sturdy efforts to test that when aspiring politicians declare to be star collegiate volleyball gamers, they haven’t merely made up the actual fact they attended school, not to mention performed aggressive sports activities there. But when one does get elected sooner or later, not less than historians may have an analogy.