George Santos Turned Out to Be Just a Not-So-Great Gatsby

There are two con artist hustler-types in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, though most people remember just the one.

The first, of course, is Jay Gatsby, or rather James Gatz of North Dakota, a name and location abandoned at the age of 17 to get away from a life of broom-pushing and salmon-fishing in order to become the mysterious plutocrat of West Egg, Long Island.

The second hustler is a man named Biloxi, who never appears in person in Fitzgerald’s narrative but who is remembered as a late-addition guest at the wedding of Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Daisy—the object of Gatsby’s enduring love—mentions Biloxi at a hot, climactic moment in the book. She and Tom and a friend recall that Biloxi fainted at the wedding and was carried into a nearby house, and he imposed on their hospitality for three weeks.

But it turns out that no one can remember exactly how Biloxi ended up at that wedding in the first place. Was he a friend of the bride’s? The groom’s? Apparently he told people he had been president of the groom’s class at Yale. This is the tell, years after the wedding happened: the Yale class didn’t have any president.

I sometimes thought of this little moment in Gatsby while working on my book The Fabulist, about con artist hustler congressman George Santos. The language echoes in one of the New Yorker’s better lies, regarding his volleyball stardom at Baruch College. (He did not attend.) In fact, he claimed, his team had “slayed” Yale on the way to being champions “across the entire Northeast Corridor.” Among the problems with this anecdote was that Yale did not have a men’s varsity volleyball team.

Gatsby and the George Santos story have many parallels, among them the fact that the West Egg mansion where Gatsby lives is generally taken to be located in a part of Long Island that would literally be in George Santos’s district. Santos lied about buying Long Island properties like Gatsby’s (in the $2.5 to $3 million range, the candidate casually told one associate). He also tweaked his name and had a precious tale about college attendance (Harvard and NYU, plus Baruch). He attracted all sorts of stories and rumors. He seemed to come from nowhere, but of course he did not, because “young men didn’t… drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound,” as Fitzgerald notes. Santos’s story, like Gatsby, has money and income inequality and upper-class snobbery in the background. Both are set in an economic moment when people seem to be winning and losing huge sums in the quickest ways, whether through crypto or the bond business.

But while reporting on Santos’ cons from Queens to Brazil to Huntington and back, I kept finding myself returning to Biloxi and his little wedding game. Biloxi may be taken for a sort of throwaway drifter by the characters in the book—a guy who faints, who was bumming his way home. But in fact, he is the one who got away with it.

“Those such as Gatsby are the strivers whose ambitious reach outstretches their con.”

He is the con artist who cadged a bed for a few weeks, who got to hang out at a fancy wedding, and who disappeared without a trace, none the worse. He has some unassuming story about his business—“boxes,” supposedly—and no one really probes because it’s not impressive enough to care. He is the successful American schemer, who gets what he wants with his modest, small-bore hustle and then moves on to his next con.

Gatsby, on the other hand, has a far different hustler’s end. He is searching for something more than an easy living. He wants insane wealth en route to recognition and redemption: Daisy, the prize that is his green light. Those such as Gatsby are the strivers whose ambitious reach outstretches their con, whose schemes end poorly because they try for too much.

This was the choice Santos made when he went into politics—to be Gatsby and not Biloxi. To achieve a level of fame and acceptance that had eluded him all his life. To be written into the book of American history rather than just make some money with pet charity scams or LLC hijinks. He chose to open himself up to prosecutors and the world in the hopes that the world would just accept the stories he told and reward him commensurately. He risked it all for the biggest gamble of his life. Was it worth it?

Mark Chiusano is the author of The Fabulist: The Lying, Hustling, Grifting, Stealing, and Very American Legend of George Santos. He began covering George Santos in 2019 as a columnist and editorial writer at Newsday. His story collection Marine Park received a PEN/Hemingway Award honorable mention in 2015. His writing has appeared in places like The Atlantic, Time, The Paris Review, McSweeney’s, The Drift, and Guernica, and he teaches at CUNY City Tech. He lives in his native Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

The post George Santos Turned Out to Be Just a Not-So-Great Gatsby appeared first on The Daily Beast.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top