The congressman’s many lies are the product of a political system that incentivizes dishonesty and punishes sincerity
It’s hard to keep track of what, exactly, the newly elected Republican congressman George Santos has said about his own life. His story changes and contradicts itself; his lies seem indiscriminate, and largely ad hoc. He says he worked at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, which he didn’t. He said he graduated from Baruch College – he didn’t do that, either. Some of his fabrications are so trivial and specific that it’s impossible to ascribe a nefarious motive to them.
What could Santos possibly have to gain, for instance, by claiming, as he apparently did to a local Republican party leader, to have been a college volleyball champion? Others are transparently self-serving, his attempts to cover them up so brazen as to be frankly hilarious. On the campaign trail, running in the heavily Jewish third district of New York, on suburban Long Island, Santos claimed that he was “a member of the Jewish community”, and descended from Ukrainian refugees. When this turned out to be untrue, he later tried to claim that he merely meant that he was “Jew-ish”. It was like a line from Seinfeld; punning, implausible, shameless. At times like this, it’s hard to take Santos’s dishonesty seriously. It seems less like an affront to the dignity of the democratic process and more like some kind of durational satire, a piece of performance art.