THE WALTER MITTY FOR OUR TIMES

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Have you heard of the recently elected New York congressman George Santos? He campaigned as the openly gay son of Brazilian immigrants, the Jewish grandson of Holocaust survivors and a Wall Street banker, but has seen a catalogue of untruths unravel in recent days.

He has confessed to lying about working for two Wall Street banks and has been exposed for claiming that his mother was killed in the World Trade Centre on 9/11 – she died in 2016.

Santos also said his grandparents fled the Holocaust, but no record of them can be found. He has falsely claimed to have been the target of an assassination attempt and victim of a daylight mugging on Fifth Avenue but has admitted he is not Jewish, as he claimed, but “Jew-ish”. Additionally, he faces local, state and federal investigations in the US, and a fraud case in Brazil.

So Santos, the almost perfect self-inventor, has made himself up — and I’m not referring to his past as a drag queen in Brazil. But then George Santos’s election has come at a time of great liars. In politics, the one declared 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump is a persistent, shame-free liar. Podcasts and Netflix series have brought the fake heiress, Anna Sorokin, to the notice of millions. Last November Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos went down for 11 years.

So we can place the George Santos phenomenon in the wider social (identity politics) and political context (a culture of alternative facts). But to be honest, it boils down to the fact that he is a chancer and a liar, a con man and a fantasist with serious problems, whom the Republican party shamefully and shamelessly is, at best, willing to suffer, at worst, embrace, because it suits its interests.

A bit like our Boris then?

However, the fact is Santos got further than he would have done twenty or more years ago. Forty years ago, he would have been forced to resign and shunned by all. Sixty years ago, he would probably have been charged and put in prison. That progression is part of the current problem of identity politics and the ending up in the “my truth” era.

There used to be a time when honour was an essential part of a politician’s make up, or at least the expectation, that they were honourable. It seems that we, as an electorate, have lost that requirement. We all knew Boris lied, it was part of his cheeky chappy personality. He was the one we wanted to drink with down at the pub. Matt Hancock has sought to “redeem” himself by willingly humiliating himself on TV and, for Santos, notoriety is an electoral plus, at least he stands out.

The problem is we have forgotten that the job of politicians is to govern. We now judge them on their entertainment value. So our own two political leaders, Starmer and Sunak, are considered boring, not inspiring. Yet they both work hard, think deeply about the decisions they take and don’t overpromise.

If the trend set by George Santos continues, he is not an outlier – he is the future. Help!

Nora Johnson’s 11 critically acclaimed psychological crime thrillers (www.nora-johnson.net) all available online including eBooks (€0.99;£0.99), Apple Books, audiobooks, paperbacks at  Amazon etc. Profits to Cudeca cancer charity.


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Nora Johnson

Novelist Nora Johnson offers insights on everything from current affairs to life in Spain, with humour and a keen eye for detail.

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