Learning from the sins of Santos, Biden, and Trump

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Learning from the sins of Santos, Biden, and Trump: How each day can leave a legacy

May 12, 2023 -

U.S. Rep. George Santos leaves the federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Santos pleaded not guilty to charges alleging a financial fraud at the heart of a political campaign built on dubious boasts about his personal wealth and business success. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

U.S. Rep. George Santos leaves the federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Santos pleaded not guilty to charges alleging a financial fraud at the heart of a political campaign built on dubious boasts about his personal wealth and business success. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

U.S. Rep. George Santos leaves the federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Santos pleaded not guilty to charges alleging a financial fraud at the heart of a political campaign built on dubious boasts about his personal wealth and business success. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

While it is hardly unique for political scandals to dominate the headlines, this week has seen three public figures vie for the collective attention and derision of the American people.

The most recent is Rep. George Santos, who was indicted on thirteen federal criminal charges ranging from wire fraud and money laundering to theft of public funds and lying to Congress. He allegedly laundered campaign donations through his personal bank accounts and then used the funds to buy designer clothes, pay off personal debts, and transfer money to other associates.

In addition, he stands accused of receiving $24,000 in unemployment benefits during the pandemic while still earning a salary of roughly $120,000 for his role as a Regional Director for a Florida-based investment firm. If convicted, Santos faces up to twenty years in prison.

However, given the chaos surrounding Santos’ election to Congress, perhaps it should not come as a surprise that he has no plans to resign and intends to run again next year. If he does, then it will be without the support—and financial backing—of current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his fellow Republicans.

Perhaps he’s counting on controversy further up the political food chain to provide some cover as his own case makes its way through the courts and committees.

Biden family secrets

The House Oversight Committee gave an update on Wednesday regarding their investigation into President Joe Biden and the payments that his son, Hunter, received during the former’s time as Vice President and in the years after he left the White House.

To date, they have traced payments to the younger Biden from businesses in Romania and China in excess of $10 million. And while there have not been clear indications that the President received a share of those funds, he did lie about his family’s connections to the named companies, particularly when it comes to those based in China.

Rep. James R. Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said that the investigation will now “enter a new phase,” in which they will subpoena further financial records and bank statements in response to what their investigation has already revealed.

The House Judiciary Committee also released a report earlier this week with evidence of a concerted effort on the part of 51 former intelligence and security officials—including current Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken—to portray a legitimate story about Hunter Biden’s laptop as a Russian disinformation campaign in the leadup to the 2020 election.

As Comer noted, however, any improprieties and abuses of power on the part of President Biden or his family are simply the latest examples of a long-standing trend among those who occupy the White House. For example, the firm of Jared Kushner—former President Trump’s son-in-law—received hundreds of millions of dollars from Persian Gulf nations over the course of Trump’s time in office.

However, allusions to his son-in-law’s business dealings are not the only reason that the former president has made headlines this week.

A “preponderance of evidence” against Trump

In a civil suit on Tuesday, a jury ruled in favor (PDF) of writer E. Jean Carroll in her case against Trump, concluding there was a “preponderance of evidence” that the former president held her against the wall of a luxury department store in Manhattan and sexually abused her. They also concluded that he owed damages for defamation as a result of comments made in the years since that encounter.

That the verdict came in a civil suit rather than a criminal case is important, given that civil cases do not require the prosecution to prove a person’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Still, it is not an easy hurdle to clear, and the results of the case cast little doubt on the veracity of at least some version of the events as Carroll described them.

Trump has denied the accusation and will likely appeal the decision but, as the authors at The Dispatch write, “the verdict adds to an ever-growing stack of legal troubles and ethical baggage that have the potential to make [Trump] unelectable in a general election.”

Despite the growing accuracy of that statement, however, “the Republican Party’s tepid response over the past two days” casts doubt on whether “Trump’s standing in the GOP presidential primary will take a hit.”

Ultimately, whether you think Trump is actually guilty of abusing Carroll or that the jury sided with her as a referendum on the former president, it’s notable that even the latter would not have been possible if his past did not make the charges so easy to believe. After all, he was recorded describing the ease with which “stars” are able to get away with exactly the kind of behavior for which he stood accused.

That history is part of Trump’s legacy, just as the charges against Santos and the accusations against Biden’s family are part of theirs. And therein lies the lesson that each of us should take from their examples.

Building a legacy

Throughout Scripture, we find people whose legacy changed from hero to villain or the other way around over the course of their story. David, for example, started out about as well as anyone could. He was a man after God’s own heart who slayed Goliath and retained such respect for God’s anointment of Saul as king that, even after the latter repeatedly tried to kill him, David refused to respond in kind. Yet, by the end of his story, he’d become a poor father, an impotent ruler, and his parting wisdom to Solomon was a list of people to kill—several of whom he had sworn to protect (1 Kings 2:1-9).

Conversely, there are few people in the whole of Scripture who sinned as greatly as Manasseh. His reign is remembered most for how he rebuilt the high places that his father—Hezekiah—had torn down and led all of Judah to join him in offering sacrifices to pagan gods, including burning his son as an offering to Moloch (2 Kings 21:1-9).

That is not where his story ends, though.

After his imprisonment by the Assyrians, Manasseh repented, and “God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God” (2 Chronicles 33:13).

From that point forward, he dedicated the rest of his life to rebuilding Jerusalem and removing the foreign idols he had previously set up throughout the city. And though those reforms were not enough to keep the rest of Israel from continuing in their sin, his grandson Josiah would continue the work and go on to become one of Judah’s best kings.

How will your story end?

I bring up the stories of David and Manasseh today neither to denigrate the former nor praise the latter so much as to point out that we are never done writing our story until we stand before the judgment seat of God. And just as starting well does not guarantee that we will finish well, there is no sin that God cannot forgive and redeem for those who are genuine in their repentance.

And that’s just as true for presidents and politicians as it is for each of us.

So remember that, for better or worse, you are the only person responsible for the legacy that you leave behind, and every day you write a little bit more of it.

What will you add to your story today?

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