Enough Egotistical Swine!

As 2022 draws to a close, we try to forget the ugly and cruel that we have witnessed throughout the year. We try to think about all the good that has happened, hoping that the next one will be even better. But if we don’t face the wrong, how will we create a better world for our children? 

One of the many unpleasant news stories in December was the surfacing of the outrageous lies of US representative-elect George Santos (NY 3rd congressional district). Santos, a young Republican candidate for US Congress lied about his education (he said he attended two colleges, whereas he did not go to college), professional background (he said he worked at large, illustrious investment firms, whereas he did not), religious background (he said he is Jewish , whereas he is not), his mother’s death (he stated she died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, whereas she died from cancer five years later), amongst many others. Santos apologized, but tried to minimize the impact, by categorizing his lies as mere “resume embellishments”. 

Presenting oneself in the best possible light in job applications and CVs is something that people do all the time, but what Santos did was to fabricate an entirely different persona. And here comes the question: how bad is this? So what if the man beautified his CV? Well, the thing is even not so much that the story exposes Santos as a compulsive liar and throws into question his integrity and character (obviously, on itself a huge problem). The bigger issue may very well be that this story demonstrates how easy it is for a person to get elected as a representative of nearly 800 ‘000 people in the legislative body of the self-professed best democracy in the world, based on a fictitious personal profile. Indeed, Santos’ lies have carefully and deliberately created a figure to appeal to a large part of the electorate: a self-made immigrant who quickly rose to become a well-educated and successful businessman, who has experienced first-hand the formative events from recent American history and who therefore understands well the American psyche. So, not simply innocent embellishments, but fabrications, planned deception designed to put someone in power. 

But should we be surprised? Nowadays people know their representatives in parliaments only from the limited exposure to campaign ads and vague value statements. How can one judge character and trust another person even superficially, based on so little information? One cannot. 

There is a lot of evidence that in parliament elections people do not know their representatives-to-be. One example is the “15/15 phenomenon” in Bulgarian Parliamentary elections — the election of virtually unknown candidates, because of a quirk in the hybrid electoral system the country uses, which makes it very easy for voters to erroneously vote preferentially for a candidate whose individual number is identical to the number of their political party (in the 2019 parliamentary elections approximately 16 out of 240 MPs in Bulgaria were mistakenly elected).  

The fact that we do not know the people who represent us explains well the disappointment most of us experience every electoral cycle. But why do we build our government, the way our countries are run, based on hope rather than hard evidence and real earned trust? We don’t do it in our personal lives; we do not trust strangers with our lives and the well-being of our families. Why do it in public life? And of course, it is absurd to think that one person can meaningfully represent the needs and interests of 800,000 others. Not by a long shot. To make things worse, once in power, representatives are largely untouchable for the rest of the electoral period, typically 4-6 years or so.  

Time will show what will happen to Santos. Given the scale of his deception it is likely that more (and potentially uglier) lies will surface, like the sources of his campaign funding for example. There may even be repercussions. But whatever happens to Santos, he will not be the last candidate to lie and cheat their electorate. The rewards of taking office are too high and the attraction for power hungry “egotistical swine” (to quote the late David Graeber) too irresistible. 

So how can we do better? Well, for one, if the highly centralized form of government results in representatives who are largely unknown to (and who often deceive) their electorate, which undermines the very trust in democracy, one would think that a way to improve the system would be to scale back on the centralization of political power. In other words, what may work better is a system of smaller self-governing, autonomous localities, where people have similar interests and can elect a local government whose members they know well. 

If concentrating lots of power in the hands of a caste of unaccountable professional representatives leads to corruption and betrayal of the public trust, perhaps a solution is to rely on temporary local representatives, entrusted to do a certain job in their self-governing localities for a limited amount of time. Importantly, there should be a meaningful and effective mechanism for quick recall of representatives who have betrayed the trust of those who have elected them. Another way to control government is perhaps to have the real possibility for direct vote by all on new legislative proposals and passed legislation. 

There are many changes and improvements for our society that one could think about. But we need to act. Act now and quickly. So looking back to 2022, let’s not turn away from ugly and cruel, but face it and think how to put it right.  

  • See also “George Santos: The Perfect Résumé.”
  • Gabor Mascarpone is a Swiss libertarian socialist from a Hungarian-Italian descent. Read other articles by Gabor.