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America is playing liar’s poker

The country is in trouble. Can Joe Biden guide America through its turmoil?

Richard Nixon boards the White House helicopter after resigning the US presidency in August 1974. Photo: Bettmann/Getty

The United States is unravelling.

This actually happens from time to time: the most spectacular example, of course, being the civil war of 1861- 1865, culminating in the assassination of the president.

The last time that the country seemed to be coming apart was during Watergate. It was a time when we saw that, despite Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy – “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – the president of the United States could do just about what the hell he wanted. We all felt like Robert Redford at the end of Three Days of the Condor – looking back over our shoulders at our very own government, one we could no longer trust.

When Richard Nixon took that helicopter off the lawn of the White House in early August in 1974, it seemed to me that the crook and liar and enemy of the Republic was crying. Crying not only because he lost in disgrace the highest office in the land. But that he got caught.

Eventually he was pardoned by his successor – as a safety measure. To quieten things down.

“Of the people, by the people” is built in to every American. It’s just that “the people” change from time to time (and many still think that “the people” does not include people of colour). We are, all of us, taught that our destiny is to be on top; to be the rulers. No, we don’t walk around with an air of superiority. Well kinda not. That’s not American.

But deep down inside we believe in our individual primacy; our supreme agency; the sovereign citizen credo which justifies for some the assault on the Capitol. If you believe that the US created “by the people, for the people”, as Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address given on a battlefield during the Civil War, will not “perish from the earth”, then you have bought into the myth.

Because the US is a myth inside of an enigma wrapped up in a fairytale and sold by The Wizard of Oz.

George Santos, whoever the hell he is, is the United States’ own version of Martin Guerre, the 16th-century French peasant who wasn’t who he claimed to be.

The newly elected congressman from the state of New York, part of what outgoing speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, called the “Red Trickle” instead of the GOP Red Wave – the expectation that Joe Biden’s Democratic party would be wiped out in the polls. A party needs 218 seats to control the House and its powerful committees and investigative power. The GOP has just 218 seats.

So they can’t afford to lose anyone.

Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, and present minority leader, has dreamed of being number three in the constitutional hierarchy – speaker of the House – for years and has made no secret of it.

But he just has the majority – 218 votes are needed. He will get zilch from the Democrats. And there is the Freedom Caucus, his own right wing ready and willing to hold his feet to the fire for any number of insanities that they and their MAGA and QAnon supporters are clamouring for. They’ve been waiting a long time.

Which leads us back to George Santos.

Santos, in his own words, has done “résumé embellishing”, actually an old American habit… and one that indicates the American drive to “get ahead”; to “make something of yourself.”

These are just a few of the things that he has said that have been found to be untrue:

That he attended an elite prep school, Horace Mann, and then went on to earn degrees from New York University and Baruch College.

That he worked for the banks Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, and started a charity, Friends of Pets United.

That his mother died in the Twin Towers on 9/11.

That four of his employees were killed in the Pulse nightclub massacre against the LGBTQ community in Orlando, Florida in 2016. (Oh, he cleaned this one up by saying that the victims were “about” to work for him).

That he was Jewish (Santos later claimed he never said that, but had remarked that he was “Jew-ish”).

This man was seen, during his campaign, as a total Hollywood movie; he wins a Democrat seat on Long Island, of all places; a non-incumbent who is openly gay – a new one for the Republicans.

If Santos is allowed to take his seat – and, as I said, the Republicans cannot afford to lose him – the House will be a circus around him as the Republicans pursue their lunatic delusions – Hunter Biden’s laptop; the “genocide” of Dr Anthony Fauci etc.

While it is likely that he will be seated, Santos could still face ethics and other investigations. The House also could expel him if two thirds of members agree to do so.

Democrats are playing hardball. Rep Ritchie Torres of New York has listed all the evidence against Santos, together with fresh criticism. He ended one tweet with: “Am I missing anything?”

The late, great logician, analytic philosopher and mathematician Kurt Gödel, regarded by his friend Einstein as the greatest mind since Aristotle, is said to have made a frightening discovery in the US Constitution close to the day that he was to take his oath of allegiance to become a US citizen.

Fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria, witnessing, to this great mind, the senseless deaths and deportations of geniuses – Jewish colleagues and others at his university – he wanted to understand how totalitarianism can come to be.

He concluded that the very law of a country can contain the poison pill of its undoing.

In the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, we have the wording to amend the constitution itself. He had already warned that lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court risked political hegemony taking over. For generations. This is already happening.

Gödel is said to have stated that the US Constitution can be amended “down”. That if the right number of people gain ascendancy, they can change it. Alexander Hamilton believed that the citizen was supreme. Washington believed that the constitution is.

So there you have it.

But I’m a Biden-believer. He has already accomplished LBJ and FDR levels of change; codified the right to marry, for example. His personal ratings remain under water. But he and Trump have a political graveyard filled with the bodies of people who thought they would both have been wiped out by now.

It’s bad. Very bad. But I feel that Joe knows the lay of the land. So far.

There used to be this sitcom when I was a kid where the kids in the back of the car complained because Gramps always drove. He made mistakes, but he got them there.

Their mother always turned around to tell them: “Let Grandpa drive!”

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