December 30, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

The fetish of George Santos

He’s an empty vessel into which the Republicans pour their desires.

Santos

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I don’t know how Long Island prosecutors are capable of investigating a man who does not exist, but apparently they’re going to try. Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said Wednesday that her office is looking into the case of New York Congressman-elect George Santos. 

Since winning a seat in the US House of Representatives, Santos has admitted to lying about his Jewish heritage, college education and employment history, among other things. Though having confessed to deceiving his voters, he has indicated nary a plan to resign. “I’m not a fraud,” Santos told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “I’m not a fake.”

Yeah, no.

In America, we can’t and won’t agree on whether something that can kill us can kill us. We can and will believe spectacular bullshit about it. In that context, is what Santos did unique? Is it even controversial?

But he’s in good company.

This is the US House of Representatives, after all. Who among its members has not defrauded constituents to some degree, for good or ill? Who has not faked their way toward getting elected? Before we blame Santos, let’s concede the context in which he’s operating, and remind ourselves he’s going to be among other representatives.

They always represent something that’s them and not-them. 

Representations of them and not-them are indeterminate and deferential in a virtually unlimited multiverse of representation. 

Who’s the real George Santos? 

Is there one? 

Can there be just one?

Amazing, superhuman tolerance
Santos is not going to step down. Twenty bucks says so. 

Kevin McCarthy, who wants to be the next speaker, is not going to lean on him. There’s a five-vote gap between McCarthy’s victory and defeat. He won’t alienate a fellow Republican for lying, not even lies possibly covering up the “source of what appears to be a quickly amassed fortune despite recent financial problems, including evictions and owing thousands in back rent,” according to the AP.

The speculation is that his flash-flood wealth came from Russia, but c’mon. McCarthy once said he thought Donald Trump was on the Kremlin’s payroll. He has since pooh-poohed the criminal former president’s attempted paramilitary takeover of the US Capitol. Do we expect McCarthy to take exception to a backbencher like Santos?

Let’s set that aside. Right or wrong, Santos will be sworn in next month. If pushed out, it’ll be due to Long Islanders pushing him out.


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The immediate question isn’t whether he stays or goes. It isn’t whether he’s real or unreal. It seriously isn’t whether Santos is authentic or inauthentic. All representatives are real and unreal, authentic and inauthentic, to one degree or another. Given the controversy he’s sparked, the question is how much is too much?

I don’t have an answer. 

Does anyone? 

What’s certain is our desire for, and expectation of, representatives to represent their “true selves.” What’s certain is our hunger for realness despite our amazing, superhuman tolerance for bullshit.

Well within cultural norms
Does it make sense to single out an individual for lacking realness, or the appearance of lacking realness, when our entire culture marinates in bullshit. Not just benign bullshit, like the marketing of Teslas, but malign bullshit, like the kind that kills Americans. 

More than 1.1 million of us are dead from the covid, many because we chose to believe bullshit about masks, vaccines and other sensible forms of prevention. As the covid surges during the winter month, the Times’ Tiffany Hsu wrote Wednesday, so does the bullshit:

What began in 2020 as rumors that cast doubt on the existence or seriousness of Covid quickly evolved into often outlandish claims about dangerous technology lurking in masks and the supposed miracle cures from unproven drugs, like ivermectin. Last year’s vaccine rollout fueled another wave of unfounded alarm. Now, in addition to all the claims still being bandied about, there are conspiracy theories about the long-term effects of the treatments, researchers say.

In America, we can’t and won’t agree on whether something that can kill us can kill us. We can and will believe spectacular bullshit about it. In that context, is what Santos did unique? Is it even controversial? You could argue that Santos’ lies are well within cultural norms.

Virtually unlimited
How much is too much? Again, I don’t know, but the answer may be in another question: will he get away with it? Yes? Then it’s too much.

Probably. 

I mean, what’s too much, really? Kevin McCarthy doesn’t care whether Santos is the real Santos or the fake Santos. What he cares about is becoming the next  speaker. What he cares about is power. 

Whatever it takes to seize power is what Santos is. He is a blank, a cipher, a stand-in, a fetish – an empty vessel into which Kevin McCarthy can pour all his desires. But empty vessels don’t come from nowhere. They are made. In George Santos’ case, self-made. He made himself with lies, with the power of language to construct reality.


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He’s not alone. 

In order for the majority of Americans, white Americans, to continue believing their political advantages are deserved, rather than designed, they must construct a protective and productive reality around them using language – that is, bullshit – in which up is down, left is right, democracy is irrelevant and the common good is meaningless.

“I didn’t materialize out of thin air,” Santos told Inskeep. He’s right. Neither did our amazing, superhuman tolerance for bullshit, the kind that killed 1.1 million of us. It came from our history, the language embedded in our history, and the eternal lust for protecting the white-power status quo against the forces of liberal democracy.

George Santos made himself with bullshit, because bullshit is the language of white power. White power doesn’t care about truth, authenticity or realness. It cares about itself. If George Santos is a fetish into which Kevin McCarthy can pour all his desires, white power is a fetish into which white Americans pour all their desires, too.

Who’s the real George Santos? 

Is there one? 

Can there be just one?

With white power, the possibilities are virtually unlimited.


John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

2 Comments

  1. Dave Smith on December 30, 2022 at 10:41 am

    As disconcerting as the lies George Santos used to run for Congress is the obvious fact that the only thing needed to be elected is money. He didn’t hold state or municipal office, didn’t head up any social activist or civic group. He just appeared with enough money to put up ads and voila the sheep elected him leader. Democracy is suffering from a malignancy brought on by the unrestricted infusion of cash by corrupt people.

  2. Bern on December 30, 2022 at 12:57 pm

    I have not yet found any single thing about the guy that is demonstrably beyond a doubt true. That in itself is pretty interesting. Not that it matters as long as he votes the party line. He is nothing more than a cypher, another box ticked.

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