Lessons from a Danish Hearing

We could learn from other nations… if we were willing to listen. It seems that’s what a “hearing” is supposed to be about.

The following text is from a Twitter thread written by Michael Grunwald (@MichaelGrunwald), and I thought it was important enough to share here in a more readable format. I originally saw it posted on Imgur and then a friend of mine on Facebook shared the same link with me. If something shows up a few times in succession in my life, I take it as a sign that it’s worth looking at, and this one definitely is.


I went to an obscure hearing today in the Danish Parliament. It blew my mind, not because of the substance, but because the US Congress has totally warped my view of hearings. And I’m just dorky enough to do a thread about it.

First of all, there was a dais in the hearing room, just like any congressional hearing, except the politicians weren’t on the dais. The six experts who were testifying were on the dais. Can you imagine? As if the hearing was about them and not the politicians?

The politicians were sitting in the front row of the audience. They all stayed in their seats for the entire hearing. And do you know what they did? They listened! I was in the second row and I didn’t see any of them look at a phone or talk to an aide at any time.

Actually, there was one politician on stage, the committee chair. She welcomed everyone, told the witnesses they would each have 10 minutes, then didn’t say anything until one witness asked for an extra minute. She said no. I swooned. ❤

Oh, did I mention this obscure hearing was simultaneously translated into English? They gave me cool high-tech headphones. I think everyone else in the audience spoke Danish but they take this stuff seriously.

Anyway, when the witnesses were done the politicians got their turn to speak. And none of them made speeches! They asked questions! Not leading questions designed to make a point. Thoughtful questions designed to get information!

This part really got me: The pols had to ask all their questions first, which took maybe 5 minutes, and then all the witnesses got to answer all of them, which took 20 minutes. The experts did the talking and the pols did the hearing. Is that how these things got their name?

I couldn’t tell which pols were in which party or what biases any of them had about the topic being discussed. It really seemed like they were there to learn. And by the end it was clear they had.

This thread is really about process, not substance, but I will say the topic was related to climate change, and everyone there took it seriously. One legislator told me only 4 or 5 of her 178 colleagues are deniers.

Anyway, the weirdest thing about this mostly banal experience was how weird it seemed. The lack of speechifying, grandstanding, partisanship or fake umbrage. How seriously they all took their responsibilities. The absence of bullshit.

In conclusion, we suck. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded how much we suck, and how it’s possible to suck less.

A Twitter thread by @MikeGrundwald.

I agree with every single word of this mini-essay, but I would like to add a bit of my own additional perspective on Mr. Grunwald’s conclusion.

  • As a nation, we don’t suck. Despite the fact that over the last 50 years or so we have lost our way in some areas and owe it to ourselves and to our global neighbors to improve¹, there are a lot of things that America has gotten right since its inception.
  • Our Constitution is unmatched in the history of the world. In 1835, French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville toured America with a view to seeing if our democracy was worth of emulation by the French. In his book Democracy in America, he declared that our Constitution was “the most perfect federal constitution that ever existed,” but also warned that it would be “profitless in other hands.” In other words, the guarantees and protections and checks and balances written into our Constitution only work if the people desire democracy; any piece of parchment can be trodden down by the feet of a lawless mob.
  • We are still a welcoming nation. The growing xenophobic right-wing movement in our country still accounts for a minority of our population, and most people understand that America has always been a nation of immigrants. It is the exquisite blending and adapting of countless cultures that makes the United States a vibrant, thriving place.
  • The citizens of our country are, in the grand scheme of things, a very giving people. In many parts of the country – even those who tend to be politically conservative – people will reach out to neighbors and even strangers and literally give them the shirt off their backs. As the song Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival says, “If you come down to the river, Bet you gonna find some people who live; You don’t have to worry cause you have no money, People on the river are happy to give.”
  • Bagels. Blueberries. Hot dogs. Pizza. Jazz. Lobster rolls. NASA. Our National parks. Rolling plains and prairies, purple mountain majesties, redwood forests, beaches, fireflies, public libraries, road trips (at least, when there’s not a pandemic going on), Jewish deli sandwiches, Hollywood, Broadway, musea, and countless other things that make me grateful to be a citizen of this nation.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Footnotes

¹ The things that need work in our country (areas in which we do suck) are also many, but they are subjects for other discussions. In the meantime, this is something good to remember as we contemplate ways to make our country better:

3 responses to “Lessons from a Danish Hearing

  1. I agree. Here, the meaning of “hearing” for our politicians is that they can hear themselves blathering.
    Take care, my friend, and stay healthy,
    Pit

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