USA TODAY International Edition

Represent, speak up, and other lessons from Mom and Dad

- Connie Schultz Columnist USA TODAY columnist Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” is a New York Times bestseller. You can reach her at CSchultz@ usatoday. com or on Twitter: @ ConnieSchu­ltz

One of my mother’s greatest joys was to be compliment­ed on the manners of her children. She awarded bonus points to anyone who mentioned our clean and pressed clothes.

My father saw it differently. We were a working- class family, and when it came to compliment­s from strangers, he was always looking for clues of motivation. If the praise came from one of our own, he would nod with pride. If the person was wearing a suit or telegraphi­ng other signs of a white- collar life, it could put Dad in a mood pretty fast. He didn’t need any of those people expressing surprise that his children knew how to behave in public.

Long after all of us graduated from college, my parents still weighed in on how we should conduct ourselves in public. When I started giving speeches, my mother had plenty of opinions about it. Not concerning what I would say, but how I should look and behave.

No matter the group, I was to wear my best and bring my top- shelf manners. Always, she insisted, I was “to represent.” I didn’t think many of the working- class families in my hometown cared that I was giving speeches, but she said that every time I was lucky enough to be in front of a microphone, I should act as if they did.

To this day, her lesson holds.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately after some Republican­s booed and shouted insults at President Joe Biden during his State of the Union address on Feb. 7.

No, that’s not quite right.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since a guy, whose adulthood began with millions of dollars from his daddy, bragged about grabbing women by the genitals and still got elected president of the United States.

After you have endured four years of that president, it probably should not surprise us when his fellow Republican, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, cups her mouth during the State of the Union to heckle Biden and shout, “Liar.”

Still, it feels like a jarring symptom of an illness we’ve been trying to ignore. Turns out, it really is this bad.

“You can’t buy class,” my father used to say. True, but you can borrow it. It’d be nice for her to try it on for size.

Democratic strategist James Carville called Greene and other Republican hecklers “white trash,” which is another way of saying “trailer trash.” His comments are just as offensive as the behavior he means to criticize.

My bias is strong here. One of my grandmothe­rs and two of my greatgrand­mothers spent their last years in trailers. I knew at a young age what too many people thought of that.

I learned some of my best habits from my great- grandmothe­r Ada BeBout, as I spent large swaths of my summers with her. Before going to bed, our nightly ritual was to tidy up every inch of the place because that’s how you keep a home, no matter its size or market value.

Her lesson holds, too.

NPR recently ran a story about how we’re in an era of “post- shame politics,” when even the biggest liars suffer no consequenc­es. Exhibit A: New York Republican Rep. George Santos, who has lied so much about who he isn’t that even most of his Republican colleagues are doing the Santos Shuffle to avoid being near him.

And that, my friends, is a sign of hope, meager that it is. We are not helpless to bring pressure to bear.

‘ McCarthy was a bomb- thrower’

We are also not the first round of Americans to be dishearten­ed by the state of public discourse. During Sen. Joe McCarthy’s dark, four- and- ahalf- year reign of terror, he ruined hundreds of lives with false accusation­s of communism in the government, and in the arts and labor movement.

McCarthy launched his crusade by claiming as his own the Senate Committee on Government Operations’ Permanent Subcommitt­ee on Investigat­ions. He was an out- of- control tyrant, to the point where other senators stopped attending hearings.

And wasn’t that brave of them. “McCarthy was a bomb- thrower – and, in a sense, that is all he was,” Louis Menand wrote in 2020 for The New Yorker. “He would make an outrageous charge, almost always with little or no evidentiar­y basis, and then he would surf the aftershock­s.

“When these subsided, he threw another bomb. He knew that every time he did it, reporters had two options. They could present what he said neutrally, or they could contest its veracity. He cared little which they did, nor did he care that, in his entire career as a Communist- hunter, he never sent a single ‘ subversive’ to jail. What mattered was that he was controllin­g the conversati­on.”

When good prevails

Menand was writing a review of Larry Tye’s biography, “Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy,” a book I highly recommend. That shadow is long, indeed.

McCarthy’s cowardly colleagues feared him, until they didn’t.

His nearly 200 hours of hearings turned the public against him, and then the Senate “condemned” him. Far more effectively, they shunned him, and robbed him of his power.

Increasing­ly, I bring up McCarthy in conversati­ons with good people who are worried that our country is in a fast and unstoppabl­e decline.

We have never been a perfect place, and our history is a combustibl­e mix of aspiration and animus. But as a journalist, I’ve been interactin­g with the public for 40 years now, and I still believe most Americans want to be better than their worst moments.

Good prevails when good people refuse to be silent. When we represent, my mother would say.

To this day, her lesson holds.

 ?? JOSH MORGAN/ USA TODAY ?? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R- Ga., yells as President Joe Biden gives his State of the Union address on Feb. 7.
JOSH MORGAN/ USA TODAY Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R- Ga., yells as President Joe Biden gives his State of the Union address on Feb. 7.
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