The Briefing

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The Briefing

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

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It's Tuesday, December 5, 2023.

I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

The Fabulous Fabulist Fabrication: The Epic Story of George Santos, New York’s Lying Ex-Congressman

Here is one of the most difficult questions to answer about human nature: why is it that we tend to fall not so much for the little lies, but for the very big lie? And why is it that when some are caught telling a lie that's obviously a lie, they stick to it? Well, one of the persons we could ask is former Congressman George Santos, or at least we think he is former Congressman George Santos. He might be former Congressman George Devolder or George Devolder Santos. We simply aren't sure, and that's a part of the story.

If you look up a basic biographical reference to George Santos, one of the first things you're going to find is that he is the first Republican and only the sixth member of Congress to be expelled by the body. That happened on Friday, and it requires a 2/3 vote by the House of Representatives. And at least 2/3 of his fellow members of the House voted to expel him, and that required not only the overwhelming vote among the Democrats, but also a significant number of Republicans. They voted to oust one of their own. But then again, they never really considered him one of their own.

There's a huge story behind this, but at least some of the facts have to be stipulated before we can go further. And the fact is that the reason George Santos was removed from office now is not that he was just immediately caught in a pattern of misrepresentations and lies. It was not that he was just now accused of massive wrongdoing including all kinds of financial crimes. No, the reason is that a House ethics investigation finally offered a sort of pre-verdict on George Santos because he is now the subject of a massive federal indictment, a massive indictment that includes 23 criminal counts, and that means 23 felonies, which means 23 serious crimes.

Now, as you look at the constitutional measure for removing someone from office, it often comes down to high crimes and misdemeanors. But we're not talking in this case about the allegation of misdemeanors. We are talking about high crimes. And as you're looking at George Santos or George Devolder Santos, you are looking at one of the biggest morality tales of our times. And by the way, even as he was removed from the United States House of Representatives on Friday, you can be sure of this, we have not heard the last of George Santos.

Now, one of the reasons we haven't heard the last from him is that he is soon after the first of the year going to go into the process of a criminal trial and it is going to be a soap opera of a trial. But the federal officials who are bringing this indictment are really clear in their expectation of conviction, and they've been pretty clear about the mounting evidence. Now, the reason that this becomes such a huge story is because it turns out that George Santos was elected on the basis of a massive set of lies. And not just a set of lies about what might've been politically expedient, but a set of lies that went far beyond what any human reason would indicate.

When it comes to George Santos, It turns out that almost all of his adult life is built upon a complex of lies. And the more he did it, the better evidently he got at it. And there is so much here in terms of our electoral process. For one thing, George Santos had run for Congress two years before he was elected in 2022. He didn't come very close to being elected that time, but he evidently decided that he was likely to get away with all of this misrepresentation. So he ran again in 2022, and this time, as we shall see, he was elected to the House of Representatives.

Now, when the massive lies became very much public, it was embarrassing, in one sense not so much to George Santos because it's not clear he can be embarrassed. It was embarrassing to his fellow Republicans. It was embarrassing to many of the people who had voted for him in the third Congressional District of New York that includes at least a large part of Long Island and the Queens. But you're also looking at the fact that it was embarrassing to the Democrats. Why would it be embarrassing to the Democrats? It is because they supposedly do opposition research. But in this case, the juiciest target of opposition research in recent decades of American political history was entirely missed or almost entirely missed even by the Democrats who were basically working for that party in order to try to find political dirt to use in elections. But the dirt did come out, it was just quite after the election rather than before.

Mark Chiusano, who has written a recent book on George Santos entitled The Fabulist: The Lying, Hustling, Grifting, Stealing, and Very American Legend of George Santos, he summarizes with these words, "George Santos, the lying congressman, the man who made up almost everything, his college diplomas and his Wall Street jobs, his Holocaust fleeing grandparents, his education at the fancy private high school Horace Mann, the four employees lost at the Pulse nightclub, shooting the Broadway producer gig for Spider-Man, on and on, each claim more like a mirage, at best a wild exaggeration. He is a fabulist. These were all just stories he told." Well, indeed he is a fabulist. And indeed, at least in that list, they were all just stories that he told. And there are many other stories that he told, but actually his life might be, if anything, more interesting than the lies that he told. Not more attractive, but more interesting.

When the story of George Santos' misrepresentations, his outright lies began to break, it came shortly after he was elected to the third district in an election that, by the way, would've made history in the United States anyway because George Santos is openly gay and the democratic candidate he was running against was also a man who's openly gay. And so in this particular congressional election, you had two openly gay men running against each other. That doesn't happen every day even in the United States in 2022, now 2023.

But long before he was elected and actually long before he even ran two years prior in 2020, George Santos was suspected by at least some people of living a network of lies, and that's because just about everything he told about himself didn't add up. He claimed to be a graduate not only of Baruch College, he didn't attend, but to have been a student at the elite Horace Mann School, he wasn't. Educational records are quite accurately kept. It turns out that he did not have the job that he claimed at the elite financial institution known as Goldman Sachs. It turns out that he wasn't wealthy, but somehow he did end up with at least a line of credit and apparently a lot of money.

It also turned out when the story began to break, that he had spent years in Brazil and video showed up of him in drag and accusations followed him having to do with financial fraud, including writing a bad check. And even as he denied that it was true, he eventually had to more or less acknowledge that it was true, but he claimed that all of these stories are being told against him in an extreme example of a massive conspiracy to try to bring down a duly elected member of Congress.

Now, there are so many issues here. For one thing, everything about the man's life just begins to break down under investigation. Virtually nothing he said about himself, even what wasn't important to his election or to his political career, none of it basically makes much sense. He lied about having participated in team sports for schools he didn't attend. And as it turns out, he claimed to have been on teams that themselves did not exist because the schools he claimed to have attended do not even have men's teams in that sport. In this case, particularly volleyball.

He claimed to have had both knees replaced because of injuries in volleyball, which he didn't play in a school he didn't attend in a sport they do not offer. All of this in New York City where there are plenty of investigators, you have hundreds and hundreds of reporters, and again, you have a competitive political situation in which frankly both parties ended up with egg on their face because in the case of the Republicans, he was a Republican candidate and then a Republican office holder, and then also for the Democrats because they basically had the greatest opportunity to expose a fraud. And not only did they miss it, they continued to miss it for some time.

It turns out that back in Brazil, and his family was originally from Brazil, it turns out that back in Brazil, he had actually confessed to the crime. But by the time the court wanted to act on it, they couldn't find him. And that's because he was presumably back in the United States and at this point in New York and involved in other fraud. When he was first shown the evidence of his guilt in Brazil, he said, "I'm not a criminal here. Not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world. Absolutely not. That didn't happen." Except of course it did happen.

Santos had also claimed to have at least Jewish ancestors and to be, when it was convenient, Jewish. And that has a lot to do with the politics of getting elected in the third district of New York, which has a considerable Jewish population. Getting the Jewish vote by identifying with Jewish ancestors, that could be huge. But when he was confronted with the fact that none of his ancestors are Jewish, Santos told the New York Post, "I never claimed to be Jewish. I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background, I said I was Jew-ish." As in Jew-ish. Oh, exactly the same thing.

When he eventually had to admit to at least some of the lies, he did so by saying everybody does it. He said, "I didn't graduate from any institution of higher learning. I'm embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my resume." He then added, "We do stupid things in life."

Well, when it comes to George Santos, it's hard to think of the things he has done that aren't stupid. And frankly, it's hard to know what things might actually be true. That is likely to become more clarified in the prosecution's case in his trial, which is going to be coming, at least it is expected, next year. But he is already out of the House. The House voted for only the sixth time in its history by a 2/3 margin to expel one of their own members. And there is a lot for us to unpack here.

So let's think about the embellishment of the resume, the invention of an entire life. Let's talk about the fact that he did all of this with a goal of gaining socially, gaining economically. By the way, among the many things that are alleged against George Santos is the fact that he ran a number of scams including one related to pets long before he decided to run for Congress. It also turns out that as he was looking for an opportunity to be a fabulist to, come up with this massive lie and misrepresentation, to be a grifter of all grifters, he somehow looked to the US House of Representatives and thought, "Now that looks like a great opportunity." That also tells us something about our political situation.

And if you're looking at this kind of pattern in politics, you have to recognize that lying about your resume, misrepresenting your story, embellishing your story for political advantage, well, that's a bipartisan and very long tradition. And if you're going to be looking at those who have now been known to have done that for decades, the first place you would look is the Oval Office with the current president of the United States, Joe Biden, who throughout his lifetime has claimed many things that were absolutely untrue, easily proved to be untrue. He claimed to have conversations with a man who it turns out had died years before. He claims that his father, who seems to be available always for an updated quote, he claims that his father at one point when Joe Biden was about 16 and the two of them saw two men kissing. When Joe Biden evidently thought that wasn't a great thing, his father supposedly said, "Joe, that's just another form of love." That would've been decades and decades ago. It's politically implausible.

Joe Biden has claimed to have seen things as vice president under Barack Obama that he didn't actually see, to have experienced things that journalists who were present with him at the time knew that he had not experienced. And he gets away with it because he has the persona of just being Joe. Everybody knows that Joe tells whoppers of stories, and Joe is now the president of the United States.

Joe Biden has also misrepresented his academic background, and that's been clarified because these academic records are pretty much comprehensively, accurately kept. If you're going to lie about something, I'll just say this as the president of an academic institution, do not lie about your academic record because somewhere someone's keeping them.

But this also points to another anomaly in 2023, or go back to 2022 when George Santos was elected, when you look at the ubiquity these days and the massive power of social media, when you look at the search engines that make just about every life investigatable, where in the world was the curiosity about George Santos? Because as is abundantly clear, it was abundantly clear at the time that a lot of curiosity was actually quite due, very responsible. The irresponsible thing was to fail to follow up, but that's what many people did, including so many in the media.

Part

What’s Behind the Human Tendency to Believe Unbelievable Stories? Why We Tend to Buy into Big Lies

But that then points to something else that's really of massive worldview significance for us. We tend to want to believe fabulous stories. That's just true of human nature. Somehow embedded in our human experience is a tendency to believe very big fabulist tales. And as a matter of fact, the word fabulist means someone who weaves together such a fabulous story, such a fabricated story that it simply is too good not to believe.

Now, literature throughout the centuries has actually dealt with this particular pattern. Broadway musicals like the Music Man going back to the 20th century, and of course an entire series of political scandals in the United States and elsewhere. And of course politics is not the only place these kind of fabulous tales emerge, and those who tell them, you have virtually every arena of life. It's just in politics, it turns out that that's a way to short circuit the system.

Just think of Frank Abagnale and the famous movie that became very, very well known, Catch Me if You Can. And Frank Abagnale went through a succession of absolutely fraudulent presentations in different careers, including one in medicine and one as an airline pilot. Now, you would think that would be impossible as an airline passenger or a patient. I'm sure you hope that would be impossible, but Frank Abagnale's tale was not false when he was caught. It was just all the stories he'd been telling all along because who would pose to be a medical doctor who's not? Who would pose to be an airline pilot who's not? Turns out the answer to that question had a name.

Furthermore, the story just gets more interesting because it was law enforcement officials who then began to work with him in order to figure out what did we miss, which turns out to be answered by the words just about everything. It takes a spectacular fall to bring about the kind of clarity that's now happening with George Santos, because if you put him behind a camera, you put him behind a microphone, he seems so self-confident that somehow embedded in our human natures the assumption that if someone's lying to us, they wouldn't lie to us with that much self-confidence. They wouldn't continue to lie to us. They wouldn't look us in the eye and lie to us. They wouldn't look at a television camera and lie to us. And yet over and over again, they do.

Nonetheless, when you're looking at George Santos, you are looking at something off the normal scale. You're looking at something that's so far off the normal scale for two reasons. Number one, he told such absolutely grandiose lies. He continued to pile lies upon lies. He told lies that were contradictory if anyone was listening closely. But secondly, he was elected to the United States Congress. I repeat myself, he was elected to the United States Congress. And that just tells you that when you're looking at the grifting, the fabulism on this scale, it turns out it can get you all the way to the United States House of Representatives.

So in the perspective of a biblical worldview, how do we understand this? Number one, how do we understand as someone who can tell this kind and scale of lies? Well, we understand it because this is just the way sin works. Sin itself is a fabulist endeavor. That is to say it attracts bigger sins, it leads to bigger sins. And as one of the Puritans described, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the problem is that sin just creates concentric rings of greater sinfulness. It is like quicksand that simply pulls a sin.

But here's where the biblical worldview also reminds us, sin is a social reality. It's not just that it sucks in the center in this sense into deeper and deeper involvement in sin. It also involves so many others. In one sense, we as human beings are co-conspirators in sin. And so when you look at this, you say, "Well, who also is guilty in this?" Well, as I've said, that's a very, very long list. And most of them would absolutely not claim themselves to be supporters or enablers of George Santos in any way, but somehow they were.

But as we think about the lie, let's just remind ourselves that if we didn't know much about lying before the 20th century, we certainly have abundant evidence in the 20th century of how lies work. The bigger the lie, sometimes the more effective the lie. You can think of ideological lies. You can think of espionage lies. You can think of political lies.

George Orwell, one of the most prophetic writers of the 20th century, referred to the big lie, and he wasn't alone. The big lie seems to be more attractive than the small lie because after all, who would lie to us about something so important? Now, Orwell's point was, well, for one thing, a totalitarian government.

here remains some pretty big issues to consider here. One of them has to do with whether or not the House of Representatives was right to expel George Santos. And by the time we've talked this long, no doubt many of you're thinking, "Well, of course the House was right to expel George Santos." And I mentioned he was only the sixth member of the House ever to be expelled, the very first Republican ever to be expelled. But it's also important to recognize that George Santos was the first member of the House of Representatives to be expelled who was neither officially designated to be a traitor to the United States of America or convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors.

George Santos has been indicted, indicted on at least 23 serious charges, but he has not yet been found guilty. This is something new in American politics. And the new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, was quite clear about the fact that he did not think this was a healthy precedent. And before you say, "Well, that's a ridiculous argument," just consider the fact that in our constitutional form of government, we still have to take account of the fact that a majority of the voters who voted in the 2022 Congressional election in New York's third district voted for George Santos, or at least who they thought was George Santos.

Reversing the decision made by voters is no small thing in a form of government that is constitutional. Now, did the House act rightly or wrongly? That's a judgment call, but it's also something that's likely to be clarified over time. There are many people I know who think that there's any chance that George Santos won't be convicted on these crimes given the overwhelming evidence and the fact that he's basically self incriminated on so many of these counts.

Part

Why is Santos Out While Senator Menendez is Still in Office? The Ejection of George Santos Raises Big Questions for American Politics

But nonetheless, it raises huge questions about how this process can be misused. This concern about George Santos is not just about George Santos or whatever his name really is. But there's another issue here. And let's just think about not only the House of Representatives, let's think about the United States Senate because in the United States Senate is a Democratic senator from New Jersey named Robert Menendez, and he is also under indictment by federal authorities, and frankly, on charges that constitutionally and historically are far more egregious than the fabulism of George Santos.

George Santos has been indicted on relatively routine financial crimes of fraud and all the rest and misrepresentation. When it comes to Robert Menendez, he has been now charged with being a false representative of a foreign nation even as he was in the leadership of the United States Senate. So you simply have to ask what George Santos must be asking, why is he out and Robert Menendez still in? And in order to answer that question, you'd have to ask members of the United States Senate, and in particular the Democratic majority in the United States Senate. Why if George Santos is out, is Robert Menendez still in? And by the way, this is the second massive scandal, to involve the Democratic Senator from New Jersey, Robert Menendez.

Part

President Biden is Going to Hollywood: Big Fundraising Foray Among the Entertainment Industry’s Progressives

But finally, for today, as we are thinking about telling stories, no one tells more stories than Hollywood. And it's important for us to recognize that Hollywood has an agenda behind those stories. A major report from the Associated Press days ago says this, "Biden going to Hollywood for big fundraising event." It is a big event. And the big story behind it is that Hollywood and the rather liberal progressive culture there in Hollywood, and if anything, that's an understatement, a place that's basically the capital of fabulism in terms of telling stories and creating narratives and shaping the culture, it's not an accident that it's a democratic candidate going to Hollywood in order to pick up really big checks. And yes, this story makes clear that given the legal setup for this particular fundraiser, there can be some really, really big checks.

Consider this when it comes to big names, "Director Steven Spielberg and his wife Kate Capshaw, who starred in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom are among the hosts of the event, as our recording industry mogul David Geffen, scandal showrunner Shandra Rhimes, and this is Spinal Tap Director Rob Reiner," according to an invitation that was obtained by the Associated Press.

Now, Rob Reiner goes all the way back to the television sitcom All in the Family, and he's been known as an extremely liberal force in Hollywood for a very, very long time. What you have here is a list of the Hollywood team of progressive leftist politics, and they are the host for this event in which they're seeking to raise funds for the election of Joe Biden as president of the United States.

Now, ask yourself the question, why are they doing that? Now, it's not because they're particularly enamored with Joe Biden. As you look back at say, the primary season in 2019, 2020, that was not the case. But Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee they got in 2020, and so they supported it in a really big way because they knew that electing the Democratic infrastructure and electing a Democratic administration would be absolutely key to attaining their goals or at least getting closer to them. And right now, they are not particularly thrilled with Joe Biden, but they are particularly thrilled with keeping a Democratic president in the White House, in the Oval Office and having their agenda pressed even further. It really is a list of all the people who you think would show up to this kind of thing. The AP reports, "Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi is also a co-host. Barbara Streisand is set to attend."

But there's another angle to this story having to do with Hollywood, and that's the timing. Why is this event on behalf of the Democratic president's reelection campaign? Why is it happening right now? It's because it really couldn't, in political terms, happen earlier. Why? Because of the strike undertaken by writers and actors, because that meant that so long as the labor action was ongoing, President Biden, who presents himself as the big champion of labor, couldn't go and meet with the oppressors in order to get money to continue his political campaign and further his political ambitions. He had to wait until the inevitable piece came to Hollywood with a new agreement between the producers, on the one hand, the big movie companies, the big entertainment complex, and actors and writers.

And what's really important is to recognize that even as that conflict was so important in dividing Hollywood in recent months, the most important thing is to understand that when it comes to worldview commitment and political views, Hollywood really wasn't in any significant sense divided at all.

The people who tell America's stories and create them in Hollywood want also to have Washington, DC cast in their own image. And we have to admit, at least thus far, they've been rather hugely successful.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler.

For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.

I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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