Acts of political courage have shaped our nation time and again. They are a thing of beauty to watch — an elected official taking a principled stand he believes is correct knowing full well that he will be attacked. Unfortunately, such acts have become very rare. After all, political courage can have undesirable consequences — criticism, loss of popularity and, at times, defeat at the ballot box.
Joe Cunningham, a newcomer and a moderate Democrat, surprised many by winning a heavily gerrymandered, historically Republican congressional district in 2018. He won in part because he was willing to challenge the status quo and push for a ban on offshore drilling. He also focused on other vital issues, like getting dark money out of politics and changing the tone of our discourse. His strong stands on these issues resonated powerfully with the voters who saw Cunningham as a man of convictions and courage.
And then as our congressman he worked tirelessly to stand up to special interests and succeeded in having the House of Representatives pass legislation banning offshore drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Instead of doing what was easy and expedient, Cunningham did what he thought was right. As a freshman congressman, Cunningham has proven to be a whirlwind of legislative activity and constituent service, from education to veterans to addressing the “Charleston loophole.”His accomplishments are many. All are grounded in decisions based on doing what is right, not what is partisan. That is exactly the type of congressman Joe Cunningham said he would be.
Despite what some may assume, he is not “going along to get along” with his party. Republicans control the Senate, and there is every expectation that the impeachment process will die there. So why is Cunningham, who will be seeking reelection in the heavily Republican 1st District, supporting the impeachment of President Trump?
Political courage. Character.
Qualities most admirable in a public servant.
The facts are clear. President Trump withheld from Ukraine, an important ally, congressionally approved and vital military aid, requesting that Ukraine dig up dirt on his potential political rival. Ukraine is not just a normal ally. Ukraine is at war with Russia, which invaded its country and seized control of the Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine is in urgent need of our military aid.
President Trump withheld congressionally approved aid to an ally in desperate need. Our ally standing strong against Russia. If that is not an impeachable offense, what is?
George Washington would roll over in his grave.
Then President Trump refused to cooperate with the resulting investigation, withholding all documents legitimately requested by congressional investigators, and prohibiting his entire executive branch from providing information or testimony. That’s obstruction of Congress. Another impeachable offense.
Seeking political aid from a foreign nation and stonewalling a congressional investigation are impeachable offenses. They have been substantiated by facts and obfuscated by fables. As he faces potentially strong opposition in a heavily Republican congressional district, Joe Cunningham could have easily clung to the fables.
Instead, he is betting that his constituents will continue to honor and support political courage over political expediency. After all, political courage is what created this great nation. And it’s what we urgently need, now more than ever.
Joseph P. Riley Jr. was mayor of Charleston from 1975 to 2016.