After months of denials and dissembling, reality finally caught up with George Santos. On Friday, the House of Representatives, by more than the necessary two-thirds vote, expelled the freshman legislator from Nassau County and Queens — making him only the sixth member in history to be thrown out in such an ignominious way.
“Given his egregious violations, Representative George Santos is not fit to serve,” declared the expulsion resolution. The extent of his unfitness is truly breathtaking.
The removal of Santos, who represented New York's Third Congressional District, came on the third try after a damning House Ethics Committee report detailing his litany of misdeeds and amid mounting pressure from New York Republicans who feared Santos' continued antics would damage their chances of re-election. To their credit, they got the job done. Shame on GOP leadership for not supporting them.
Santos must still defend himself against a 23-count federal criminal indictment for conspiracy, wire fraud, false statements, falsification of records, aggravated identity theft, and credit card fraud. It would have been unprecedented to let him use his congressional seat to continue his grift.
Santos will surely have a prominent place in the annals of all-time fakery, achieving the lasting fame he so desperately seeks. To the chagrin of Long Islanders, he became famous for his perfidy, a surefire punchline for late-night TV hosts who reveled in his outrageousness. Virtually every aspect of Santos — his past education, jobs, family, even his participation on a college volleyball team — proved a fake. Some of his lies were deeply offensive, like claiming he was Jewish and that his grandparents survived the Holocaust when none of that was true. He also falsely claimed his mother had survived the 9/11 terrorist attack when documents showed she wasn't anywhere near the World Trade Center on that infamous day. The gall of making such a claim in a congressional district where so many residents lost loved ones on 9/11 is beyond measure.
While Santos didn’t bother to defend himself in the House, he seemed keenly aware of his public image on TV and the internet. “I am not a criminal,” he insisted. “My sins here are embellishing my resume." Indeed, lying is a sin.
During his short tenure as a congressman, Santos failed in many ways to serve the essential needs of constituents who had to turn elsewhere for help navigating the federal bureaucracy. That representation will wait even longer until a special election to replace Santos in February, when the national parties will spend millions of dollars to make Long Island's CD3 the first skirmish in the battle to win control of the House in 2024.
A REAL-LIFE GATSBY
But ridding Congress of Santos is not the same as ridding ourselves of the legacy of Santos, whose grand scam was much more than just poor stewardship or faking a resume. His considerable skills for understanding the vulnerabilities of the American belief in the ability of the outsider to succeed helped him fabricate a fictitious narrative about himself. His story is something closer to a novel than real life. Indeed, his phoniness is akin to that of Jay Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's indelible character who like Santos spun his web of lies on Nassau's North Shore. "The Great Gatsby" was a commentary on the willingness of Americans to buy the lie, to believe the con man, to see things that weren't really there, and to project our own assumptions on a figure that wasn't based on reality.
Modern Long Islanders faced much the same dilemma with Santos, wondering how he lasted as long as he did without being exposed by the truth. Santos capitalized on our current era of self-absorbed, social media-hyped politicians more concerned with hits on the internet than the drudgery of getting something done in Congress. But Santos should never have gotten this far.
Political leaders of both parties must do a much better job of vetting potential candidates. Similarly, the press and public should look under the hood before buying. The fabulist Santos was nominated twice — he ran unsuccessfully in 2020 before winning last year. Usually, candidates for Congress have a resume of previous government experience or public life that tends to sort out the fakes early on. But in this peculiar era — when truth is malleable, when so many of us willingly embrace our national history of reinvention, when our local political parties so often choose not to contest elections with credible candidates — it was almost guaranteed there would be a Santos in our midst sooner or later.
So what is the moral to his sad, often bizarre tale? Perhaps Long Islanders are better off trying to see this fiasco from afar to get a real sense of what it means. With beaucoup irony, France’s Le Monde newspaper quoted Santos describing himself as “the embodiment of the American Dream.” To be fair, the American public can’t be blamed directly for his shocking lack of character and honesty. But in another sense, the Santos disgrace is indeed our disgrace for not keeping an adequate watch over our increasingly fragile democracy.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.