NEW YORK CITY, near America
Proving yet again that America is the world’s most exotic country, now comes the pudgy fabulist and fraudster George Santos as leading man in a Republican Party cast of kooks and clowns sworn into office last month as members of the United States Congress.
Measured by the volume of headlines he’s inspired, Mr. Santos is flashiest of the flock. He has a penchant for auburn wigs, ruby red lipstick, and feathered gowns accented in rhinestone. Never mind the style being officially frowned upon by Republican machers of Christian probity, a rank of men (mostly men) horrified by carnal practices other than their private perversions.
Day after day, news media spew gushers of outlandish lies from the pouty lips of the 34-year-old Congressman Santos, fabrications well beyond the relative innocence of his multitude of aliases. George Santos (or whomever) has told bald-faced whoppers about his genealogy, employment and family histories, educational attainments, personal wealth, and religious identity—having explained that he is alternately Jewish, not Jewish, devoutly Catholic, and “Jew-ish.” He claims astounding athleticism as star player for the men’s volleyball team at Baruch College (where he was never a student), an activity so strenuous to have necessitated surgical replacement of both knees, so he says.
Not to forget fables about Ukrainian grandparents (not) who escaped the Holocaust, about his own escape from New York assassins, about the time his shoes were stolen when he was mugged in broad daylight whilst strolling along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan…
…and the king of his whoppers: that horrible day in September 2001 when his Brazilian-born mother, Fatima Aziza Caruso Horta Devolder, survived the terrorist firebombing of New York’s World Trade Center by fleeing from the office where she supposedly worked as a corporate executive.
But if we put ourselves in a George Santos frame of fable-mindedness, we might imagine a scintilla of truth to the firebombing yarn: Mama Devolder, whose death from cancer in 2016 was certified by the New York City coroner as well as her online obituary, lived the unremarkable life of a nanny and domestic worker in the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Niterói in the years 1999 through 2008—this according to immigration records in both the U.S. and Brazil. Thus did Fatima Devolder “survive” the terrorist attack on New York by dint of her not being in the city on Tuesday morning the eleventh of September 2001.
As for Santos père —Gerino Antonio dos Santos, Jr., a Brazilian house painter who, with his wife, eventually emigrated to New York—it is of little surprise that his telephone number here switches to an automated answering service unable or unwilling to broker return calls to curious reporters.
Coincidentally, Congressman Santos represents the so-called gold coast of Long Island, New York—scene of “The Great Gatsby,” a 1925 novel by the late F. Scott Fitzgerald about flamboyant wealth, social pretense, outrageous deceit, crime, false identity, and tragic consequence during America’s so-called Jazz Age. Shades of our present time—this Age of Forsaken Truth, where all manner of lies from all manner of societal leaders are not merely tolerated, but expected.
The new congressman’s flamboyantly dubious résumé is silent on what may prove be his only attestable accomplishment: As a younger man in his ancestral Brazil, Santos fils was an aspiring drag queen performing under the nom d’artiste Kitara Ravache—this according to three likeminded fellows of his social circle.
Likewise unmentioned from the Niterói days:
• George Santos was arrested in 2008 on charges of stealing bank cheques belonging to a man who employed his mother as housekeeper. According to local police, Mr. Santos forged signatures on two of the cheques to purchase luxury clothing worth more than $1,300—drawn on closed accounts. (It is unclear whether the garments in question were masculine or feminine.) According to the New York Times, Mr. Santos posted the following on Brazilian social media soon after his arrest in ‘08: “I know I screwed up, but I want to pay.”
• A Brazilian police report in connection with the incident was presented to Mr. Santos for signature before it was filed with the criminal court, further according to the Times. It read, “He [Santos] acknowledged having been responsible for forging the signatures on the [two] cheques, also confirming that he had destroyed the remaining cheques.” Mr. Santos signed, thus confessing.
• After repeated attempts by police to serve the court’s warrant for appearance, a trial date in Niterói was finally set in 2011. But Mr. Santos blew town shortly before that date, winding up here in New York. Subsequently, his parents came—legally. Back in Niterói, court proceedings were suspended until such time as authorities could locate him.
Today, prosecutors in Brazil have petitioned the U.S. Justice Department to force Mr. Santos’ return for trial. If convicted on forgery and theft charges, the congressman faces five years in a Brazilian prison, plus a substantial fine, plus the likely additional charge of felonious flight. The petition is pending.
In an interview with the New York Post, meanwhile, Mr. Santos avowed, “I am not a criminal—not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world. Absolutely not. That didn’t happen.”
Truly spoken like a Tinpot Trump. The disgraced ex-president was by far the more renowned liar.
In truest Trumpian replication, however, Mr. Santos is currently under investigation by federal authorities for possible (probable?) violation of campaign finance law in the matter of $700,000 worth of donations from nebulous sources. Conviction on such charge would easily land Mr. Santos in prison.
Anyone possessed of socio-economic power knows that idiots are useful agents to be deployed by quiet confederations of the élite in the historic cause of sustaining the health of privilege and plutocracy.
Currently, this is now glaringly clear in America, where the antics of Republican politicians who behave as petulant children in tantrum mode, serve to make Congress look like a joke. Which understandably causes much of the workaday citizenry to disengage from attentive involvement in what we enjoy calling our U.S. democracy. Cheap spectacle is the idiocracy that threatens to destroy what is left of our civil democracy.
Idiocracy is the most insidious means of voter suppression, actually the most severe familiar instrument in the plutocratic toolbox for blunting the demands and expectations of a dwindling American middle class.
George Santos, the very epitome of cheap spectacle, is hardly alone as heyboy for the élite. Also sworn to office last month, shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Santos, were these among his squawky Republican confrerès—
• Lauren Boebert of Colorado, the snarky homophobe and scourge of Democratic Party “libtards,” objects to Vice President Kamala Harris’ usage of “preferred pronouns” requested by many in the LGBTQ community. The congresswoman recently tweeted, “Kamala Harris just introduced herself with she/her pronouns at an official event. She then clarified herself as a ‘woman’ sitting at the table wearing a blue suit. This is what happens [when you] hang around with Geriatric Joe [Biden] too long.”
• Jim Jordan of Ohio, nicknamed “Gym Jordan” due to his allegedly ignoring locker room sexual abuse during his days as a high school athletic coach, pushes a mythical plot by the federal government to confiscate gas stoves from American homes. Thus has he declared the newest holy trinity of Republican political creed: “God. Guns. Gas stoves.”
• Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, an occasional enthusiast of QAnon, the conspiracy cult holding that cannibal child sex traffickers operate from the basement of a pizza parlor in Washington will one day be secretly smited by the Heaven-sent Donald Trump.
Unlike George Santos, I am not making this up. Nor do I falsely report Ms. Taylor Greene’s new assignment to the Homeland Security Committee in the lower chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives.
• Matt Gaetz of Florida once enjoyed a steadfast political posse that included Joel Greenberg, a county tax collector, and Halsey Beshears, secretary of the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulations. In 2021, Mr. Greenberg pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of minor girls and was sent to prison. Mr. Beshears stepped down the same year upon being credibly accused, along with Congressman Gaetz, of engaging in sex with Mr. Greenberg’s 17-year-old (ahem) business associate. During the Trump regime, Mr. Gaetz requested a blanket presidential pardon—unsuccessfully. Following their investigation into the matter, federal prosecutors have recommended against charging Mr. Gaetz with sex trafficking, though a final decision awaits.
• Paul Gosar of Arizona, a dentist cum cartoonist, is best known for posting an anime clip of his superhero alter ego wielding a murder weapon against Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. He is flatly opposed to allowing U.S. entry to migrants, especially of the Latino or Muslim persuasion, and castigates President Biden’s “reckless socialist Marxist $4.9 trillion spending bill that provides $100 billion for amnesty to tens of millions of illegal aliens already in this country.”
Just how and why do grotesques such as Santos and his Republican co-religionists find sanctuary as high-salaried members of Congress, the House chamber in particular this election cycle? The left-leaning journalist Thom Hartmann offers a two-point theory: 1) Prominent rightwing think tanks fund their elections and media messaging to a public ever willing to swallow ludicrous lies à la George Santos; and 2) the “morbidly rich” worry that “America is suffering from too much democracy.”
Mr. Hartmann writes of upper-crust concern:
“The modern-day backstory starts in the early 1950s when conservative thinker Russell Kirk proposed a startling hypothesis that would fundamentally change our nation and the world.
“The middle-class at that time was growing more rapidly than any middle-class had ever grown in the history of the world, both in terms of the number of people, the income of those people, and the overall wealth that those people were accumulating.
“The [American] middle-class was growing in wealth and income back then, in fact, faster than were the top one percent.
“Kirk…postulated that if the middle-class and minorities became too wealthy, they’d feel the safety and freedom to throw themselves actively into our political processes, as rich people had historically done.
“That expansion of democracy, they believed, would produce an absolute collapse of the nation’s social order.”
But of course, upper-crust dread of the rabble goes far back. At least to the time of Edmund Burke (1729-1797), the Anglo-Irish statesman, philosopher, economist, and staunch opponent of the French Revolution, what with its cast-off of royalty and its troublesome political oath—Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Saith Mr. Burke:
“The occupation of a hair-dresser, or of a working tallow-chandler, cannot be a matter of honour to any person—to say nothing of a number of more servile employments. Such descriptions of men ought not to suffer oppression from the state; but the state suffers oppression, if such as they, either individually or collectively are permitted to rule [by voting in democratic fashion]. In this you think you are combating prejudice, but you are at war with nature.”
Hence the need of idiocracy as a guardrail against democracy spread too broadly to too many; a threat perceived by the few. The U.S. Republican Party, haven for idiots the likes of the foregoing vanguard, is happy to oblige in what its leading lights call “taking back our country.” The American television industry, devoted to the care and feeding of their couch-dwelling and mouths-agape audience, are only too happy to increase advertising revenues by serving up entertainments in the persons of George Santos and his idol in preposterous delusion, Donald Trump.
Precisely like Jay Gatsby, protagonist of “The Great Gatsby,” Mr. Santos is marked by a tragic character flaw—the seeming inability to arise from his dream and accept reality; only upon waking might he realize his true drag, that being a stooge for those with socio-economic power, a simple functionary whose users think no more of him than lint.
Until six years ago, there lived in Kentucky a religious leader and Republican state legislator whose extravagant lies were refuted in a largely forgotten exposé one terribly fateful December day. Congressman George Santos would be well-advised to heed any career parallels of dark nature.
As the self-appointed bishop of the Heart of Fire Church in the city of Louisville, Danny Ray Johnson represented himself as White House chaplain under three successive presidents—George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. No such position exists, then or now. The (very partial) list goes on:
• Bishop Johnson claimed to have established “safe zones” in Los Angeles during city-wide race riots in 1992 as a self-described “golden-haired preacher from Kentucky among rioting people of color.” There were no such things as safe zones.
• Johnson claimed to have been White House chaplain under three successive presidents—George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. There was no such position then, and no such position now.
• Johnson claimed that he rushed to New York after the terrorist attack on New York in September 2001 and created an impromptu morgue for those who did not make it out alive (unlike Mama Santos, supposedly). As part of his makeshift morgue duties, the bishop performed last rites for the dead and dying.
The Heart of Fire Church was no primly Protestant house of worship. It featured topless female entertainers, cigarette smoking, underage drinking, and a tattoo parlor. It somehow burned to the ground in the year 2000, although rebuilt with insurance money, whereupon the insurance company sued the bishop for fraud.
Arson was the beginning of Mr. Johnson’s criminal troubles, though it didn’t prevent his election in 2010 to the Kentucky General Assembly. His time as a state lawmaker was brief.
On December 11, 2017, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting completed its seven-month investigation of the high-flying Danny Ray Johnson by releasing a complete accounting of his sinful ways—including the matter of rape allegations made by a minor female parishioner of his church.
Two days later, Bishop Johnson held a press conference at the church to deny the rape allegation, and all others. His wife, Rebecca Johnson, stood by her man at that presser, adamant in his defense.
“These high-tech lynchings based on lies and half-truths,” said Ms. Johnson, “cannot be allowed to win the day.”
Nevertheless, that afternoon at one minute before 5 o’clock the bishop posted what seemed a rambling confession to Facebook, after which police found his body on a riverbank. Danny Ray Johnson had shot himself in the head with a .40-caliber pistol.
George Santos—also known as Anthony Devolder, George Anthony Devolder, Anthony Zabrovsky, Kitara Ravache, and “The Talented Miss Kitara”—would also be well-advised to heed a friendly warning given by the comedian Jon Stewart in a recent episode of his popular podcast.
“The thing we have to be careful of,” said Mr. Stewart, “is we cannot mistake absurdity for lack of danger.”
—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag