Remember when lying could get you in trouble?
“Honesty is such a lonely word.” As the great Billy Joel once sang, “Everyone is so untrue.” That could be the anthem for this modern era, when liars and lying are not only tolerated, but rewarded for their artful deception.
Now comically synonymous with the countless lies that he’s told — there are literally too many to count — George Santos says he has no plans to leave Congress, where he’s representing the great state of New York and its 3rd District. While many of his Republican colleagues in New York have called for his ouster, as of yet, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has decided his seat’s far too important to worry about little things like sociopathic dishonesty.
Santos has lived quite a fictitious life in just 34 years. He’s been everything from a college volleyball star to a pet philanthropist to a Wall Street power player. He claimed his grandparents survived the Holocaust, his mother died as a result of 9/11, and that he lost colleagues in the Pulse nightclub shooting. The Brazilian Catholic has also claimed Jewish and Ukrainian heritage. A Wikipedia bio for his pseudonym Anthony Devoloder claims that he’s appeared on the Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana” and in an Uma Thurman movie. He was even the victim of an assassination attempt!
In fairness to Santos, he comes from a great tradition of New York liars, from former Rep. Anthony Weiner to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer to the con artists to end all con artists, former President Donald Trump.
Santos was unsurprisingly backed by Trump, and fellow New Yorker Rep. Elise Stefanik, who also decided getting a Republican elected was way more important than electing someone who’d lie about the Holocaust and his own mother’s death.
I’m old enough to remember when being a liar and a con artist was a bad thing, a shameful thing, even a disqualifying thing.
We impeached President Bill Clinton for lying about an affair with an intern, remember. Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford went from presidential prospect to the world’s most infamous Appalachian Trail hiker when he lied about an Argentinian affair.
These weren’t insignificant lies, especially coming from public officials. But it’s hard to imagine any one of them being disqualifying today, especially in the Republican Party.
That’s in no small part thanks to Trump himself. Republicans were aware of his many lies and cons before becoming president and they nominated him anyway. As he continued to lie habitually as president, they nominated him again. And even as his biggest lie — that his election was stolen — proved to be a fatal one on Jan. 6, when thousands of his followers stormed the Capitol to overturn a democratic election, Republicans continue to back him, seek his endorsement, and call for his nomination a third time.
Republicans’ Faustian bargain — accepting the lies in return for power — meant that truth, honesty, character, and integrity were no longer requirements for public service in the GOP. And plenty of others took advantage of the new rules.
A young North Carolina Trump supporter named Madison Cawthorn allegedly lied about his education and his business background, and even about training for the Paralympics. He became a congressman, and later admitted to lying about cocaine-fueled orgies he said he saw in Congress.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has denied engaging in insurrection on Jan. 6 despite texts and video proving otherwise. She’s also pushed baseless conspiracy theories about 9/11, school shootings, COVID vaccines, California wildfires, and Democratic sex trafficking.
Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker was caught in numerous lies on the campaign trail, and still won the Republican nomination — and more than 48% of the vote in his December runoff.
And countless Republicans — members of Congress, presidential hopefuls, candidates for state offices, including governor, attorney general and secretary of state, continue to lie about the 2020 election.
Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake is lying about her own failed election in 2022, claiming it was rigged by both Democrats and Republicans.
It’s enough to make your head spin, but it’s also likely just the beginning. What incentive does any Republican running for any office have today to be truthful? If no one in leadership will hold them accountable, and voters no longer care, why not fabricate a resume, lie about elections, push baseless conspiracy theories?
This isn’t to say Democrats hands’ are completely clean. There’s been plenty of liars on that side of the aisle — I’ve named several in this column.
But what Santos is proving with every day he remains in Congress is that the Republican Party simply doesn’t care anymore about lying. Not only isn’t it disqualifying, it may be rewarded with congressional seats, committee assignments and proximity to power.
Gone are the days of tearful admissions, resignations and shame. The lies are here to stay.
S.E. Cupp is the host of "S.E. Cupp Unfiltered" on CNN.
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