An unAmerican Dream

“’From rags to riches’ has a unique American meaning.” – The Lonely Realist

The opportunity for money and power can drive ambition to incredible lengths heights. As Jay and the Americans sang, “Only in America can a kid without a cent get a break and maybe grow up to be President [and] can a guy from anywhere go to sleep a pauper and wake up a millionaire.” That’s the American Dream …, which also has an #unAmerican side. The 2023 “unrole” model for that Dream is George Anthony Devolder #Santos (also known as Anthony Zabrovsky and Anthony Devolder), age 35, a first-term Congressman from Long Island. Santos, a kid who began “without a cent,” a guy “from anywhere” with a high school education and without any legal, business or financial experience, showed just how a forked tongue self-promoter can realize an unAmerican Dream. Santos’ lying, cheating and stealing vaulted him from obscurity to a seat in America’s House of Representatives, evidence of a set of skills that politicians the world over appreciate and frequently emulate …, though that hasn’t previously been a notable characteristic of America’s elected officials. That reality has changed. Fact-checking, a laudable 20th Century practice, apparently has become passé in 21st Century America.

Santos’ biography is an amazing read. It includes so many tall tales that reflect an uncanny ability to say whatever it takes to persuade voters and donors that he is the “real deal” …, no matter how untrue. His purported religious and racial backgrounds, as well as his alleged multinational heritage, were designed to reflect his constituents’ diversity … though not his own. His education and work experience presented the perfect profile of an individual trained for public service …, even though they bore no relationship to reality. His success in achieving wealth and power through political office is a common occurrence in immature democracies, where facts are flexible and private industry a challenge. The fact that Santos’ methods succeeded in America’s mature democracy and thriving economic environment should be surprising …, shouldn’t it?

Santos, although born in America, had been living in Brazil for several years before moving to New York City in 2011, side-stepping a check fraud case against him, and promptly took a job as a call center customer service representative at Dish Network. He claimed that he thereafter worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, although both companies say otherwise and he subsequently admitted to having lied …, but explained that “studies show that most people lie on their resumes.” Do they? And do they then successfully run for Congress using those sham credentials? Although Santos holds a high school equivalency diploma, he falsely claimed to have received a bachelor’s degree in finance and economics from Baruch College and a masters in business administration from NYU, and to have scored 710 on the Graduate Management Admission Test. Impressive, but untrue. It is unclear precisely what activities he engaged in from 2012-2019, although he apparently was pressed for cash as there were several eviction and theft proceedings brought against him. He began working at Harbor City Capital, a Florida-based investment firm, in January 2020, shortly before the SEC sued Harbor City for running a $17 million Ponzi scheme. Santos left Harbor City shortly thereafter … and focused on his political career.

The foregoing serve as backdrop to the report released earlier this month by the House Ethics Committee (half of whose members are Republicans and half Democrats). That Report found that Santos had sought to “fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his personal financial profit,” determining that Santos, who had charged his campaign for personal trips and for cosmetic products and services, “blatantly stole from his campaign.” “deceived donors into providing what they thought were contributions … but were in fact payments for his personal benefit,” and “reported fictitious loans to political committees to induce donors and [Republican] party committees to make further contributions to his campaign – and then diverted more campaign money to himself as purported ‘repayments’ of those fictitious loans.” The Report noted that he “sustained all of this through a constant series of lies to his constituents, donors, and staff.” The Committee added that during its investigation, Santos had engaged in “obfuscation and delay” and that his “lack of candor … itself [was] particularly troubling.” The Report concluded that the Committee’s evidence “revealed that Representative George Santos cannot be trusted. At every opportunity, he placed his desire for private gain above his duty to uphold the Constitution, federal law, and ethical principles.”

Santos, of course, denies all the allegations, tweeting that “It is a disgusting politicized smear that shows the depths of how low our federal government has sunk. Everyone who participated in this grave miscarriage of Justice should all be ashamed of themselves.”

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have charged Santos with 23 criminal counts based on misleading donors, fraudulently receiving unemployment benefits, lying on House financial disclosures, inflating his campaign finance reports, and charging donor credit cards without authorization. Santos has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Although America is not immune to politicians’ criminality, the American Dream is not one that should support it. As Representative Michael Guest (R Miss), the Chair of the Committee, said, “Santos’ conduct warrants public condemnation, is beneath the dignity of the office, and has brought severe discredit to the House.” The Committee, however, did not make a formal recommendation to expel Santos. Following the Report, Representative Robert Garcia (D CA) indicated that he plans to submit just such a resolution when the House reconvenes after its Thanksgiving recess. It would be unAmerican for the House not to overwhelmingly endorse that resolution. After all, should America and should Congress continue an elected official in office when that individual “cannot be trusted,” “blatantly steals,” and engages in “fraudulent or otherwise questionable business dealings”?

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Finally (from a good friend)

  • Steve
    Posted at 11:49h, 26 November

    Thanks Bill:
    Very important for the articulation of the past present and future aspects of this wonderful example of fact checking and the scrutiny needed to make good use of all things

    • The Lonely Realist
      Posted at 04:07h, 27 November

      Another reader had a different perspective, asking whether based on the TLR commentary “should Biden be impeached and his whole family be indicted”? The answer should be “yes” if there were similar bipartisan Ethics Committee findings.

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