MR. SANTOS GOES TO WASHINGTON
IS THE NEW NORMAL IN POLITICS ABNORMAL?
By Ken Jaikaransingh
In Frank Capra’s1939 Hollywood film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” an unsuspecting head of the Boy Rangers is selected by crooked politicians to go to Washington to replace a recently deceased Senator. Our naïve protagonist has no idea that he has been chosen precisely because of his naivete and ignorance of national politics. His would-be handlers are sure that they can exploit his wholesome image as they pursue a nefarious scheme to build a dam in his home state illegally. Finally realizing political low-lifes have set him up, Smith chooses to resist stoutly, even as attempts are made to discredit him by his former sponsors. Of course, as is required in Capra films and many other American movies, good eventually triumphs over evil, and our hero wins the day and the girl.
In 2023, Mr. George Santos, a Republican who has won a Congressional seat in New York’s 3rd Congressional district, beating out the former Democratic holder, has suddenly been outed as a fraud and liar of immense proportions. He has lied, inter alia, about his religious faith (he is Catholic, not Jewish), his education (he never went to college), his work history (he worked for neither Citigroup nor Goldman Sachs), and his sexual affiliation (he claimed to be gay). Even more alarming, he claimed that he had lost friends in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando (untrue) and that his mother’s parents were Ukrainian Jews (in fact, from Brazil). In recent news, he is now under investigation for a raft of suspect financial dealings, and Brazil has reopened fraud charges against him.
Mr. Santos has, however, not been disowned by his Republican comrades. Their majority in the US Congress is much too slim to be put at risk; the man who would be Speaker of the House desperately needs his vote to fend off internal challenges within his own ranks. Mr. Santos will take his seat in the nation’s legislative body that touts itself as the bulwark of democracy and free speech in the world, even as his Republican party squabbles publicly over its choice for Speaker of the House.
It is unlikely that Mr. Santos feels either guilt or remorse. He will certainly feel no incongruity when he finally takes his place in Congress. Republican members in 1974 voted to impeach a republican president for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress, which ultimately led to President Nixon’s resignation.
Mr. Santos should feel quite comfortable amidst such characters as Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, and Matt Goetz, poster children for the ‘New ‘ Republicans whose allegations of election fraud and anti-immigrant hysteria reflect the sentiments of a sizeable population in the United States that feels that their country should be white, Christian, conservative and isolated. To this fringe, ironically self-titled The Freedom Caucus, the ever-resolute Mr. McCarthy has so far yielded so much to win its support that if he bends any further backward, he is likely to find himself twisted beyond recognition, all still to no avail.
Mr. Santos is probably also taking comfort from signals that the new Congressional majority is also proposing to implement administrative changes that will isolate those who refused subpoenas from the January 6 Committee from a possible investigation by the Lower House’s own Ethics Committee. Mr. Santos will be an unwitting beneficiary of any such arrangement.
Mr. Santos has had a notable tutor in former President Donald Trump, whose capacity for brazenly lying, distracting, and improbable denial has little or no equal in recent political history, American or elsewhere. In January 2021, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker team calculated that Donald Trump ‘had accumulated 30,573 untruths during his presidency—averaging about 21 erroneous claims a day…What is especially striking is how the tsunami of untruths kept rising the longer he served as president and became increasingly unmoored from the truth.
Trump did not invent the science of the brazen lie, which Santos now seems to have perfected. In a 1973 book called ‘The Politics of Lying,’ David Wise laid bare a pattern of contemporary lying by various US administrations beginning in 1966 and culminating with Nixon and Watergate. It prompts one to reflect that deception of the American public has deep-seated roots; one can look back, if so inclined, at the string of broken treaties made with or official promises given to the indigenous Native American populations in the process of territorial expansion.
It would be a mistake to unilaterally drape American leadership with perfecting the art of the politically motivated lie. The history of the world would suggest that deception of one’s public is an essential ingredient of leadership the world over. Recent events in Trinidad and Tobago suggest that our politicians have long mastered this critical skill and adopted the brazenness about it that is now seemingly a required adjunct. The philosophers would argue that the compulsion to lie and deceive is inherent in human nature; the anthropologists might claim that it became a necessity to ensure survival and self-preservation; political thinkers and historians would see it as yet another item in the public figure’s toolbox of required skillsets, the end always justifying the means.
That there should be such a profound distaste in some of us for deceptiveness and outright lying in public affairs may surprise a few (or is it more than a few?). Some of us may naively believe that an oath of office is still a sacrosanct thing and that those who would lead us must be held to a higher standard. In his 1973 book, Wise spoke of a ‘credibility gap,’ a lack of confidence by the public in what their elected officials say; fifty years later, this has hardened into political cynicism, best represented in Trinidad and Tobago not only by the large numbers who no longer choose to exercise their hard-won franchise but by the many who now believe that when we stain our fingers in electoral ink, we do so for exchange, not change. But withdrawn or cynical as one might be, we cannot help but cling to the belief, in the words of the late Black Stalin, that ‘better days are coming.’
Ken Jaikaransingh is a former educator and publisher who lives in Trinidad. He posts occasional essays for friends on Facebook and has provided student guides for several examination texts. Now retired, he has published two collections of short stories, both available on Amazon.com. The link to his most recent,The Mark of Cane, is https://a.co/d/fwft6RG‘