Farewell to the House of Representatives

Farewell to the House of Representatives  (2020) 
by Joseph Kendrick Cunningham

Delivered on the floor of the United States House of Representatives on December 17, 2020

Mr. Speaker, I rise with honor to address this Chamber one last time. And I say "with honor," because it has been truly that to serve the people of South Carolina's First Congressional District. I want to thank them for that opportunity, particularly because, by most accounts, I never should have been here in the first place.

I was reminded of that over the Thanksgiving holiday as I walked on the beach on Sullivan's Island with my 2-year-old son, Boone. We were out there searching for a sandcastle that he had built the day before, but I knew it had been washed away by the tides.

I thought about the slim chances I had of making it here back in 2018. And then my defeat 2 years later. It became apparent that political victories and losses are as transient and vulnerable as my son's sandcastle on the beach. Especially in a district like ours, a Democrat in a ruby red and gerrymandered district that President Trump carried by 13 points back in 2016, one that had not been served by a Democrat in my lifetime.

But we made it here by promising something different, by promising to work with one another, reach across the aisle, listen to those we may not agree with, and get things done.

Washington, D.C., was rife with partisanship and chaos. However, I didn't arrive 2 years ago to simply complain; I came to roll up my sleeves and be part of the solution. Or, as the old adage goes, I did not come to curse the darkness, but to light a candle.

But it wasn't just about talk; it was about action. We said we would work across the aisle, and I was ranked the fourth most bipartisan Member in Congress.

I said I would work with anyone to get things done, and President Trump signed two of my bills into law.

I promised to protect our beautiful shorelines in South Carolina, and we passed my bipartisan bill that did exactly that.

We showed that working together can manifest remarkable results, all of which was made possible by the dedication of my incredible staff and with the love and support of my family.

Sadly though, here in Washington, D.C., bipartisanship and civility seem to be the exception and not the rule. In my short tenure, I have been disappointed with a lot that I have encountered.

I have seen Members consistently put their party ahead of their own people; embracing conspiracy theories or arguments detached from reality while knowing better and, sometimes, admitting so privately.

I have seen Members mock the President behind his back and praise him to his face; loathe him in private and worship him on television.

I have seen them intentionally spread misinformation and lies, flirt with white supremacists, and pander to the most extreme voices in our society.

And it has been for one reason and one reason alone: self-preservation; people more interested in protecting themselves and their party than protecting our country; more interested in keeping their job than doing their job.

Such reckless and selfish behavior has created a system where most politicians can't lose and most Americans can't win. And when it is time to tackle the greatest challenges before us, our leaders cannot even agree on the problems, let alone the solutions.

Today's elected leaders bear a tremendous responsibility to be the custodians of our young and fragile democracy. And make no mistake, our democracy has been battered and bruised, but it is not yet broken. And to save it, we must agree on one basic truth: that the other side is not the enemy. The enemy is the stubbornness of our own biases.

The enemy is a political system that seeks to divide us for sport. Let's fight that and not each other. Our country is facing some serious issues right now, and our country will be much better served if Democrats and Republicans can come together.

My grandfather always told me that you can get through about any problem if you actually sit down with somebody and have a beer together. I have been trying to work with people since the first day I got here. I won't ever stop reaching across the aisle or trying to work with one another or sitting down and having a beer and listening to each other.

For the betterment of this country, we have to come together. We have to sit down, listen to each other, and maybe even have a beer.

In the spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation, I raise this glass to my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).