American politics is a circus. In the arena of Washington, DC, lawmaking and lawbreaking is a fanatical kind of entertainment. Republicans have thrived on a diet of chaos since the rise of former president Donald Trump, turning the performance of democracy into primetime viewing. “The reality of it is, it’s all theater,” Representative George Santos of New York said on Thursday during a press conference on the steps of the US Capitol as he faced expulsion from Congress.
Soaking in the carnival of media attention that has stalked him since he arrived in DC in 2022, Santos—taking one last stand as a solo act this week—was predictably unmuzzled in the hours leading up to the vote that would decide his political future. “It’s theater for the cameras, it’s theater for the microphones,” he said, referring to the playhouse of American bureaucracy and, ironically, himself. “It’s theater for the American people at the expense of the American people.”
In a short time, Santos had fashioned himself into one of the most fascinating carnival barkers of recent memory. By Friday he was out of a job.
As cameras rolled and online chatter swirled across social media about his alleged scams, there was nowhere for Santos to hide. Not that he wanted to, of course. In a Spaces conversation hosted on X, Santos was hellbent on exposing his congressional associates—“Felons galore,” he colored them—for their alleged crimes. “I have colleagues who are more worried about getting drunk every night with the next lobbyist that they’re gonna screw, and pretend like none of us know what’s going on, and sell off the American people,” he said. The spotlight was his alone, as was the intense scrutiny that came with it.
In October, a report filed by the House Ethics Committee claimed that Santos had overstepped his authority as a member of Congress, accusing him on multiple counts of financial fraud and criminal activity. The ethics report determined that Santos—among other misdeeds that already included charges of wire fraud and conspiracy—used campaign funds on Botox, the adult subscription site OnlyFans, and luxury Ferragamo shoes (select pairs sell for more than $2,000). True to form, Santos said the report was “littered in hyperbole.”
Equal parts enigma and attraction, Santos courted controversy from the beginning of his tenure as a US representative. There was an uncanny cadence to his personal testimony: Nothing was exactly as he told it. Even now, in the dim light of his scandalous incumbency, the question of “Who is George Santos?” remains unclear. The air of mystery surrounding Santos, and the public’s deep fascination with him, is owed to his own innate flair for invention, which both feeds into the eccentricity of American politics and mirrors the conceited, but no less savory, surrealism of reality TV that we obsess over. Who doesn’t love a surprising plot twist and a riveting character arc?