The sad anecdotes of George Santos; read article by David Brooks

The sad anecdotes of George Santos; read article by David Brooks
The sad anecdotes of George Santos; read article by David Brooks

What’s it like to be so ashamed of your own life that you feel compelled to invent a new one?

Most people don’t feel compelled to do this. Most of us take the true events of our lives, including failures and frailties, and construct coherent narratives about who we are. These autobiographical narratives are constantly updated as time goes by—and evidently tend to be, at least modestly, self-flattering. But for most of us, the life narrative we tell both to the world and to ourselves gives us a stable sense of identity; helps us make our most important decisions. As philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once observed, you can’t know what to do if you don’t know what story you’re a part of.

A reasonably accurate and coherent autobiographical narrative is one of the most important things a person can have. If you don’t have a real story, you don’t have a real being.

Trumpist deputy son of Brazilians, George Santos speaks at an event in Las Vegas after winning midterm elections Photograph: John Locher / AP

George Santos, on the other hand, is a young man who apparently felt compelled to discard much of his real life and replace it with fantasy. According to Grace Ashford and Michael Gold of Times, it has been reported, in his successful campaign for Congress this year, he claimed to have a college degree that he does not have; he claimed he had jobs he didn’t have; and claimed to own properties that apparently do not belong to him. He claims he has never committed check fraud, but the Times revealed court records suggesting he committed. He claims that he has never described himself as a Jew, only as adjacently “Jewish”. Self-described as a gay man, he hid a heterosexual marriage for years that ended in 2019.

All politicians — perhaps all human beings — adorn themselves. But what Santos did goes beyond that. He fabricated a new personality, a superman of meritocracy. He claims to be a populist who hates elites, but he wanted you to think he once worked for Goldman Sachs. Imagine how inadequate you would have to feel to go to all that trouble.

I can’t feel much anger at Santos for his falsehood, I just feel a little sorry. Cutting yourself off to such an extent from fundamental truth destabilizes your whole life. Santos has made his own past unreliable, perpetually for sale. But when you do that, you also eliminate any coherent vision for your future. People might wonder how Santos could have been so dumb. In political life, his fabrications were bound to be discovered. Perhaps this is because disingenuous people often have trouble anticipating the future; they get stuck in the now.

In a sense, Santos is a sad and comic version of where Donald Trump has taken the Republican Party: a land of unreality, the continent of lies. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party was not primarily an ideological achievement, it was psychological and moral. I don’t feel sorry for Trump the way I feel sorry for Santos because Trump is too cruel. But he introduced, on a much larger scale, the same pathetic note into our national psychology.

In his book The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump, the eminent personality psychologist Dan McAdams argues that Trump is capable of continually lying to himself because he has no real sense of self. . There is no real person, inner life or autobiographical narrative to betray. McAdams cites people who were close to Trump who reported that being with him was not like being with a conventional person, it was like being with an entity that was playing the role of Donald Trump. And the role lacked any sense of continuity. He would completely immerse himself in whatever battle of dominance he was fighting at that moment.

McAdams describes Trump as an “episodic man” who experiences life as a series of disconnected moments, not as a stream of consciousness with a coherent narrative. “He doesn’t consider what might be ahead, at least not very far ahead,” writes McAdams. “Trump is not introspective, retrospective or forward-looking. There is no depth; there is no past; there is no future.”

You U.S there have always been imposters and people who have reinvented their pasts. (If it were real, Jay Gatsby might have lived — estimates of the precise locations of the fictional East and West Egg vary — in the district that is now Santos.) This feeling is different. I wonder if the age of attention deficits and online avatars is creating a new type of character: the person who doesn’t experience life as an accumulation over decades, but as a series of disjointed here-and-now presentations, echoing with internal emptiness.

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This week, Santos attempted some damage control in interviews, including on WABC radio, in New York. The conversation had an air of unreality. Santos was incoherent, evasive and haphazard, readjusting his narratives in vague and fluid ways. The presenter, John Catsimatidis, didn’t question him the way a journalist might. He practically gave Santos tips on what to say. The nagging question of personal integrity was not on anyone’s radar. And then the conversation reached a Tomwolfeian crescendo when former Congressman Anthony Weiner suddenly appeared—and turned out to be the only semi-competent interviewer in the room.

Karl Marx famously stated that under the influence of capitalism everything solid melts into air. I wonder if some elixir of Trumpist influence and online modernity could have the same effect on individual personalities. / TRANSLATION BY GUILHERME RUSSO

The article is in Portuguese

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