Back in February, David Roth of Defector nailed who Santos was, and why this grifter was able to end up in the halls of Congress, in a column titled "The Man Who Invented Himself."
George Santos gives press conference after being expelled from Congress. (SNL) pic.twitter.com/bWbt1AlVqn— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) December 3, 2023
The critic Lionel Trilling's famous assessment of reactionary politics as "a series of irritable mental gestures that seek to resemble ideas" has not gotten any less correct, but it has slipped out of balance, or just into a more gleeful expression of itself. The gestures long ago gave up the ghost of resembling anything larger. There is no longer any need for a conservative politician or reactionary TV pundit to justify what they say and do, but they absolutely cannot stop saying and doing those things. Politicians increasingly behave like influencers—not just always broadcasting, but always on, always upset, always ready to extrude some sort of response to whatever it is that is being responded to at that moment. In this sense, Santos is as fit and qualified for his position as anyone else. The upside, for those with political or cultural power, is that their audience doesn't expect or even want them to fix anything; the downside is that the work of getting angry about all those bad things never stops. You already know how this plays out in the culture—as a fervid rolling panic attack, mostly, in which questions are raised but never answered, everyone is selling something and aiming to get over on everyone else, and every problem only ever compounds and compounds. Some creatures are better adapted for this luridly befouled environment than others.I'd go one step further and say that today's Republicans don't want to solve problems. They just whine about them to take up air space between commericals on RW media and podcasts, and as long as dumb people get stirred up and distracted from real issues and real inequities, and can stay angry instead of thinking, then mission accomplished. Roth ended that column by pointing out that Santos was literally an empty suit that would say anything that he felt the SUCKERS would want to hear.
The last thing that Santos made himself, in his campaign, was the right kind of victim. The man who lived in a humble rental apartment, one step ahead of the consequences of a decade of uninterrupted grifting, told his future constituents that he was in fact a wealthy landlord who had been victimized by the freeloaders living in the buildings he owned, and that he would smash the users who had been recklessly empowered by weak politicians. He raised money like this, and got elected in part by promising to bring people like himself to justice. If there's something poignant there, it's by accident. One of the few things about Santos that seems demonstrably true is that he likes dogs, but even that is harder to credit because of how often he took money intended to help sick dogs and redirected it to his own accounts. He was not and is never thinking any of this through, but he knew enough. Trying to be what he thought the mark across from him wanted to see led Santos first to try to be Someone Interesting, and then Someone Important, and finally just to reflect the idle grievances and memetic horror and headlong heedlessness of those vain and furious marks back at themselves. He would not make them safe; they didn't want to be safe. But he would luxuriate with them in the daily offense of what they believed they had lost, and embody the higher lawlessness to which they aspired; he would, in the blankest and most implicating sense, be their representative. It might be the first time he's ever done what he said he would do.Which kind of made Santos the perfect Trump Republican, right? Tweets and obnoxiousness over thought, blame instead of solutions (or policy of any sort), and extra points for being a non-white, non-straight guy that could "crack on his own" (unless that's BS as well). This is the logical outcome of a party whose base voters get their "facts" from GOPper-ganda radio and TV, and lack the mental toughness to ask questions and adjust to the realities of 2023 America. Heck, four of Wisconsin's 6 GOP Representatives thought it was fine to keep a fraud like Santos in Congress (Van Orden, Fitzgerald, Tiffany and "reasonable moderate" Gallagher), and a majority of GOP House members as a whole voted to keep Santos around. The real mistake Santos made is that he stole from rich donors and innocent everyday people. If he just kept his scams targeted at attacking and screwing "others" that the rubes didn't like (Democrats, college students and professors, poor people of color), he might still be in Congress today, and GOPs would be trying to protect him and his vulnerable seat in 2024 to keep their already-tenuous majority in the House.