March 3, 2023

SPARACIO | Speaking Truth to Power: My Congressman is a Liar

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We live in a post-truth world. The concept of post-truth was first coined in Jan. 1992 by Serbian American playwright Steve Teish. He stated, “We, by our actions, are saying that this is no longer necessary, that we have acquired a spiritual mechanism that can denude truth of any significance. In a very fundamental way we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.” In 2016, ‘post-truth’ was the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year, defined as “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Certainly post-truth applies to the story of Congressman George Santos (R-N.Y.) who is currently representing New York’s 3rd Congressional district.  

Since he assumed office on Jan. 3, Republican Congressman George Santos has been the subject of multiple investigations illuminating the extent to which he lied about his identity and fictionalized his entire resume throughout his campaign. He lied about having attended college, working at Goldman Sachs and about his finances. Amongst his more egregious lies are his claims that his mother died on 9/11, that his grandparents died in the Holocaust and that he is Jewish. How did this even happen in the first place? Cornell Professor and Former Congressman Steve Israel (of New York’s 3rd Congressional district) writes in an article published by The Atlantic that the reason for this is “a combination of Democratic complacency, Republican extremism and media decline.”

America’s political terrain and democracy’s deterioration at large has contributed to the rise of Santos.  Cornell’s own democracy study group attributes the erosion of democratic norms to the loss of faith in institutions (starting with 9/11 and continuing through the 2008 economic recession), scandals in sports (like deflate gate) and sexual impropriety in the church. In addition it’s attributed to the spread of processes like globalization, automation, migration, empowerment and a largely reshaped media landscape (ex. Social media echo chambers). We are approaching the two year anniversary of the Jan. 6, Capitol insurrection catalyzed in part by what became known as “the Big Lie.” The Big Lie refers to the political myth which asserts that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. Though it alleges even more dangerously that the election was stolen from him. By sowing seeds of doubt into the American public, one of the most important aspects of American democracy — the integrity of our elections — was challenged. We are still living in the wake of this lie. Santos unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2020 but alleged that the election was both stolen from himself and from President Trump.

Connected to the idea of truth is the inextricable link between truth/knowledge and power in our politics. For example, knowledge about COVID-19 was highly partisan, as people decided what to believe about the virus based on political party. Even the objectivity of science has become somewhat subjective. We need spaces in society where knowledge and truth are not caught up in the exercise or resistance of power. The antidemocratic impulse present in society today is tied to truth and power particularly in the case of election integrity. If a candidate loses the vote and denies it, they don’t accept the truth in order to continue to hold on to power. We saw President Trump and Santos purposely distort the truth to hold on to power when claiming that the election was rigged or when Santos claimed to be Jew-ish not Jewish. Santos has become the modern day example of Orwellian doublespeak “which is a language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses, the meaning of words” in order to pursue power. Though today’s media landscape promulgates Santos’ manipulation by selling his so-called brand for a particular group of consumers. The disintegration of local news and the failure to investigate Santos before he won a seat is another part of our troubled media landscape that helped catalyze his victory. 

It is important that in some circumstances we divest truth/knowledge from power. The post-truth world has seeped into political identity with some members of Congress refusing to accept the truth about past elections or about vaccine effectiveness. Ironically, this type of political identity has coupled with the desire to not govern and to disrupt within the halls of Congress — making the government itself the object of attack. Truth is quintessential to democracy and we should enforce a standard such that only truthful politicians are allowed to be in politics — if that is possible. 

Rebecca Sparacio is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Space Between runs every other Tuesday this semester.