Brazil’s Biggest Soap Opera Right Now? The George Santos Scandal.

Newly elected Republican Rep. George Santos Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.The spiral of lies disseminated by newly elected Republican Rep. George Santos of New York has made him a political and social pariah and object of relentless scrutiny. Since the New York Times’ December exposé revealed the newcomer essentially manufactured his resumé and biography, the 34-year-old Long Island congressman has become the gift that keeps on giving for reporters, political junkies, meme watchers, and pretty much anyone interested in a good story about grift. A brief inventory of Santos’ lies includes: him being Jewish, his grandparents having fled the Nazis, his mother supposedly dying on 9/11, his entire higher education and professional background, his ownership of several properties, and the list goes on. He has yet to be sworn in, due to the chaos in the House GOP, but the representative has become radioactive. As the 118th Congress opened this week, he could be seen isolated and diminutive in the vast chamber.
The shitstorm swirling around the Republican politician has particularly resonated with Brazilians. One fact amidst the myriad of debunked fabrications is that he is the son of two immigrants from Brazil. He is also facing a renewed investigation for a fraud committed in Niterói, a city just outside of Rio de Janeiro, in 2008, when he stole a checkbook from one of his caregiving mother’s patients to buy $1,313.63 in clothes and shoes. His whereabouts were unknown to prosecutors for years until the news of his election. Although he admitted to the crime in 2010, when he was 19 years old, Santos told the New York Post he is “not a criminal here—not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world. Absolutely not. That didn’t happen.”
Brazilians are big on soap operas and have a singular appreciation for dramatic plot twists in politics. (Consider our impeached president, disgraced judge, and formerly incarcerated president coming back from the ashes—just for starters.) So naturally, they were hooked. “Please don’t talk to me about ANY subject other than US Congressman George Santos,” one Twitter user posted. “I’m obsessed.” Another described the debacle as a hypothetical co-production between Brazil and the United States that could resemble Inventing Anna, the Netflix series about the fake heiress Anna Delvey. “Americans LOVE to fall for con artists,” yet another said in a tweet referencing Delvey. “I’m already imagining the series and its various seasons with many scenes from Carnival in Rio.” 

Eu nunca tinha ouvido falar do deputado brasileiro-americano George Santos e estou obcecada lendo as histórias????? Porém não chocada porque americano AMA cair em papo de con artists ne gnt pelo amor
— paule (@paaaulitt) January 5, 2023

And my personal favorite: “I love that, thanks to George Santos, gringos are getting a taste of why House of Cards has nothing on Brazilian politicians.” 
Most reactions express a mix of embarrassment and amusement. While Santos wasn’t born in Brazil—his campaign bio says he is a “first generation American born in Queens”—some Brazilians have attributed his flexible relationship to the truth to his heritage and the “Brazilian Way,” which can be interpreted as a predisposition for transgression. “He took the DNA of the homeland to America—shame,” a user posted on Instagram. “Brazil has been better at exporting talent,” a tweet said of the country’s soccer tradition. Thanks to Santos, one person suggested, “it will be easier to explain why Brazil is not for beginners.”
Analyses of a mongrel complex and not entirely deserved stereotypes that permeate even Disney cartoons aside, some chose to focus their criticism on Santos’ support of former President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been wandering around Florida while pretending Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s inauguration didn’t happen. In November, Santos posted a photo with Carla Zambelli, a far-right congresswoman and hardcore Bolsonaro supporter who chased a man down the streets while pointing a gun at him. (Some users have commented on Santos’ Instagram asking him for help to denounce the “stolen elections” in Brazil.) 
“If the American electorate is interested in this type of merchandise,” a comment in a Folha de São Paulo newspaper article reads, “we have at least another three hundred ready to be shipped. Export is what matters.”