It is hard to fathom the inner life of George Santos, the disgraced Congressman-elect from the 3rd District of New York, as he manufactured virtually everything about his past and identity to create a new persona and win a seat in Congress – his family origins in Europe and the Holocaust, his religion as a Jew, his high school and college education as a graduate of elite schools, his employment history in powerful economic institutions, his considerable wealth and ownership of multiple properties, his mother’s death in 9/11, and his sexual identity.
So many questions have been raised about the character and integrity of this young man; how he thought he could lie so brazenly and present himself so fraudulently to the constituents of his congressional district; why the media and his Democratic opponent didn’t perform due diligence by giving even a cursory check into Santos’ exalted claims about himself and his alleged accomplishments during the campaign; and how the morally challenged leadership of the Republican Party can remain so utterly silent that such a liar is about to become a fellow Member of Congress, though nothing ought to surprise us any longer about the craven power-seeking-at-all-costs-Republican-Party and its Senate and House members in the Trump era.
I have been wondering how Santos could look at himself in the mirror each morning and then go out into the public and brazenly present himself as a fraud about virtually everything that distinguishes a human being. And I have wondered what damning secrets he is covering up that compelled him to lie so flagrantly and with such hubris and dishonorable ignobility.
What is he hiding? What truths about his character has he veiled? What blemishes is he refusing to confess? What failings has he suffered in his short life about which he seems so embarrassed and shame-filled that he felt the need to create an entirely new identity?
The French novelist and politician André Malraux wrote: “Man is not what he thinks he is; he is what he hides.” (From his novel Man’s Fate, publ. 1933)
True enough. We all hide some things about which we feel are too personal to share with others. Some of us hold tightly onto our secrets from fear of embarrassment and shame. Doing so, though understandable, carries the risk of damage to our moral integrity, emotional well-being, and relationships with others.
Some secrets are like cancer metastasizing in the soul. They ought to be shared confidentially, at the very least, with one’s closest family or friends or therapist or clergy person who can support and help us confidentially move through the suffering that gave rise to our most self-destructive secrets. Only by acknowledging and talking through the most painful truths in our past can we understand ourselves in the present and release the negative toxins associated with the secret we held onto for so long. Denial, deception, and delusion are hindrances to the nurturing of integrated lives and honest relationships. Self-knowledge and self-acceptance of our vulnerabilities are foundational to self-understanding, emotionally sound and spiritually healthy human beings.
It is unclear whether Mr. Santos understands himself at all. His lies are so egregious that we have to wonder – who is this young man beneath his here-to-fore fraudulent veneer?
We certainly cannot know what secrets he holds that motivated him to falsify everything in his life. Perhaps, he hoped that the pursuit of public office offered him an escape from his secrets and an opportunity to invent himself ex nihilo.
Over time, of course, the character of most public people emerges under the flood lights of celebrity. Though Santos’ deception came too late to throw the election to his opponent (thanks to The New York Times), Shakespeare’s counsel rings true and is sound advice for us all whether we are public figures or live the most private of lives: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” (Hamlet – Act 1, Scene 3)