George Santos needs to resign — but he also needs help

The serially lying Republican congressman needs to resign. But he also needs help.

George Santos, Republican congressman from New York, waits for the start of a session of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, January 6, 2023
George Santos, Republican congressman from New York, waits for the start of a session of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, January 6, 2023 [File: Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

George Santos is, I suspect, sick.

I defer to psychologists to account for the provenance and pathology of the besieged United States congressman’s litany of lies that have driven him into a maelstrom of his own making.

The breathtaking scope and nature of those lies about his schooling, work, faith and family have, understandably, not only rendered Santos a deeply unsympathetic figure but raised the possibility that his deceptions may have a more sinister hue.

Santos has deceived many people, including, of course, his New York constituents who elected him to office in 2022 by a comfortable margin on the strength, in part, of an impressive résumé that turns out to be largely fictitious.

Since he was exposed as a serial liar, Santos has been the subject of a near-daily diet of stories and commentary which, taken together, have delved into his labyrinth of lies in head-shaking detail and suggested that his wanting character is an avatar of these equally wanting times.

Santos’s lies are so outlandish and, in some respects, offensive, that they rival Donald Trump’s legion of lies in their halting scope and audacity.

That Santos appropriated the Holocaust and 9/11 among his catalogue of outrageous embellishments and exaggerations speaks to the depth of his Trump-like facility to disfigure the truth to further his parochial political interests and ambition.

He has become toxic, even among many of his Republican colleagues, several of whom have rightly called on Santos to resign.

Santos’ refusal to do so has confirmed his blindness to reality and made him a pariah. That became apparent during the protracted vote to elect Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House of Representatives earlier this month.

At first, Santos sat alone in the chamber fiddling with his phone to pass the time, looking lost and forlorn. Then, after he was mocked in the press and on social media, Santos retreated into an anteroom, only to emerge briefly to support McCarthy in order to avoid further embarrassment.

It would be simple for me to join the withering pile-on, not only to ridicule Santos, but to excoriate him for his, by now, familiar glossary of egregious lies.

At the risk of being dismissed as a Pollyanna, I instead ask my colleagues in the fourth estate and readers to pause and consider that Santos may be suffering from a mental malady that not only explains his aberrant behaviour, but also demands our charity, sympathy and understanding.

Yes, our charity, sympathy and understanding.

I am not going to play amateur psychologist and venture a diagnosis of the congressman. It is clear to me, however, that this troubled young man needs help. I pity him.

Loneliness – whoever endures it and for whatever reason they endure it – should not be fodder for the cruel pleasure of any columnist.

These days, much is written and said about the necessity to adopt a more enlightened attitude towards mental illness and to recognise how endemic the pain and hurt is among all sorts of people, in all walks of life, including, I dare say, politicians.

Sadly, these progressive attitudes often evaporate instantly when a juicy political story sets off a furore. Then, the real, keenly felt human consequences of that reporting become an afterthought, if they are examined at all.

While I acknowledge that Santos is the author of his misfortune and the scrutiny and possible sanctions that will flow, predictably, from his deceit, I have tried to envision the toll that the drip-by-drip revelations and the blanket national and international exposure are exacting on the congressman’s mind, body and soul.

It cannot be easy.

My hope is that Santos, despite his many and manifest sins, has a confidant who can steer him to do the right and honourable thing.

At the moment, Santos is choosing instead to make qualified, half-hearted apologies and offer up sorry, absurd explanations and rationales to try to mollify his critics inside and outside the media.

Seeking solace among scoundrels on cable TV and trusting that news cycles inevitably turn, is a losing strategy that will only compound Santos’s cascading troubles.

Santos can recover a measure of grace and honesty if he admits that his nascent political career is over, apologises sincerely to his constituents and pledges to make serious and tangible amends for all the lies he has told.

But this will require something of Santos that he has, to date, been unable to muster: a forthright appreciation of what he has done and why he has done it.

There are considerate professionals who can guide Santos towards that necessary, if belated, discovery only if he chooses, at some point, to seek them out.

Perhaps he will. Perhaps time and distance will provide Santos with the perspective and insight to come to terms with his dishonourable past and present too.

Santos hinted at such introspection when he said that some of his lies were the consequence of the “vulnerability of being human”.

His admission struck me as a sliver of candour amid the cobweb of lies Santos has weaved to create an appealing and accomplished character who does not exist but who was rewarded with a coveted seat in Congress.

Until Santos summons the will, courage and strength to do the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time, he will continue to bathe himself in shame and disrepute.

Still, we would do well to remember that everyone, given the opportunity and encouragement, is capable of change and repair, even George Santos.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.