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Can we really be whoever we want to be?

Santos: being his true self. David Becker/The Washington Post/Getty

We live in “a time of great liars”, says David Aaronovitch in The Times. Donald Trump, the fake heiress Anna Sorokin, Theranos fraudster Elizabeth Holmes – all world-class fibbers. But George Santos is on a different level. The 34-year-old US Congressman has been exposed for lying about where he was educated (not the private school Horace Mann), where he worked (not Goldman Sachs), how his mother died (not 9/11), his religion (not Jewish) and his grandparents (not Holocaust survivors). Some say he is just a conman. But I think it’s deeper than that. When Santos says “people can be anything they want in America”, he really means it – he has invented an entirely new self to suit his purposes. And in this respect, he is a harbinger of “self-identity politics”.

This is somewhat “awkward” for the left. Liberals insist that gender is merely a “declaration of self”; that “you can be whatever you want at the moment you want to be it”. But on race, these same people insist there are “inherent and ineluctable characteristics” – woe betide the chef that borrows recipes from other cultures, for example. The traditionalist right has its own problems. Its adherents are brought up to believe that all are equal under God – then spend their lives euphemistically complaining about gay people thrusting their sexuality “down people’s throats” and black people “going on about race”. And as the two sides “flounder in their contradictions”, through the middle comes George Santos, “fresh from inventing atomic fusion and ready to take on the world”.