The true résumé is rarely honest. The entire document is based on a stream of twisting embellishments, fanciful achievements, and, in some cases, pure fiction. Read it, as you would, an autobiography, which could only interest audiences by what it omits, what it underlines, and what it pretends to celebrate. The wrinkles vanish, the wounding sores patched; the skin moisturised, the face lifted by delicate textual surgery. Its writing, and its acceptance by any relevant audience, is a mutual conceit, a pact against veracity.
The number of individuals who make use of this mechanism is embarrassing. Academics speak of projects they never undertook nor finished, and degrees doctored rather than earned. In a good number of cases, diplomas and awards mentioned are not all they seem – the global market for purchasable PhDs is healthy and thriving. Some claim to have legal qualifications they lack, and others fantasise about unattained military honours and tours of duty they never completed.
Any résumé that also purports to be true is bound to be irrelevant. Many job appointments are already filled before the paperwork is sent in. The favoured candidate, however inferior, must be boosted by the quality of the alternatives. That the alternatives are better is not a chance they will succeed, but cast glorious sunlight on the nepotistic pick, the favoured winner. The mediocre are long in such affairs.
The true résumé, in short, is short on truth. All it needs do is mention a name, preferably correctly (the right spelling is a bonus), a few bottom drawer achievements, and the rest can be put down to research by the employer or, in the case of politics, the voters in question.
This raises, then, the fundamental point about the role of such a document in certain fields. Why even bother trusting the biographical portraits of politicians, notably those of salad day persuasion? The art and the craft of the position demands deception, truthful lies and lying truths. A good turn of phrase, a deodorising spray of charm, helps.
It follows that such a document is redundant before going to press, to brochure, and to postings on a social media channel. You cannot trust it, and you are a fool to. Even worse is to get excited about it after the fact.
This leads us to the New York Republican and Representative-elect George Santos, who has been put into the stockade, if only by the press, for his schoolboy fibbing and childish howlers. “My sins here,” he mumbles, “are embellishing my résumé.”
It transpires that the 34-year-old representative-elect did not graduate from college (it probably would have spoiled his education), nor worked for Mammon’s cutthroat representatives, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup (a fact impressively moral, surely?). His portfolio of 13 properties was also make-believe – he lives with his sister in Long Island. His mother did not die “in her office in the south tower” of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, but in 2016. Then came that slightly tricky addition of identity politics – good if you can get away with it, dangerous if you end up on the gallows. That matter was the question of his Jewishness.
The New York Times could barely hide its astonishment at such a smorgasbord selection by Santos. “While others have also embellished their backgrounds and military honors that they did not receive or distortions about their business acumen and wealth, few have done so in such a wide-ranging manner.” The paper was indignant at the fact that voters “didn’t know about his lies before casting their ballots.”
The list of political figures sporting sketchy biographies, if not outright lies, is lengthy and not confined to any one party or ideology. Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren had a hack at claims of Native American ancestry and was found wanting. In August 2019, she put the whole matter down to a case of oversight. “Like anyone who’s being honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes.”
The current US President, one Joseph R. Biden Jr, was also susceptible to improving his academic record for public consumption. In 1987, he inflated his double major in history and political science from the University of Delaware into three degrees rather than a single B.A. in history and political science. His claim that he had gone to law school on a full academic scholarship was corrected by Newsweek’s finding that Biden had gone to Syracuse “on half scholarship based on financial need.”
For those who treat the truth with molesting disdain, Santos is impressively and pathologically consistent. But he hopes that his audience will be receptive and forgiving. “I’m very much gay,” he remarks, hoping to shrug off the demon of unfashionable heterosexuality. His marriage of five years to a woman was one of those things that made him ponder. “People change. I’m one of those people who change.” Steady on, Representative-elect; you have changed quite enough already.
Santos has also promised to “be effective” and “good.” There is no reason to assume that he will be either, but that’s merely in line with his résumé. Any politician claiming achievement ahead of attainment is a clown to be celebrated before the guillotine of real expectations.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He currently lectures at RMIT University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org