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:

Patriotism is not Nationalism.

I categorically reject the concept that I do not love my country because I support “Change it or lose it” instead of “Love it or leave it.”

1200px-EcologyTheta.svgThe Ecology Flag

Our inhuman horror of a president, a spoiled, rich, unethical businessman and game show host, has proven again and again that he believes women are property that he can abuse as he pleases; that blacks and Mexicans are sub-human and should be removed from the country; that Muslims are undesirables who have no place in America; and that the poor and the sick should die and reduce the surplus population rather than drain the profits of his rich cronies.

It is *because* I love my country, and its Constitution, and by extension the flag and anthem which symbolize these things, that I support protests against the ongoing racism and injustice that are endemic in our society.

I respect my country far more than you do, Mr. Racist-in-Chief, by demanding change and supporting the oppressed and sidelined of our nation.

Wrapping yourself in the flag and screaming “Respect it or get out!” is the kind of attitude that allowed World War II to happen. I will not allow history to repeat itself in that matter, not in this country or under this Constitution.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Some thoughts on Memorial day.

Yesterday, I posted this on facebook:

“There are never sufficient words to thank those who have paid the price, and their families, to keep us free from bondage. My gratitude to all who ever wore the colors, past and present.”

A couple of my friends (and I do consider them friends) who live in countries other than mine made some comments which prompted an uncharacteristic stirring of my little gray cells – usually they’re quite content to veg out on TNG reruns, energized by my wife’s creampuffs.

Since I happen to have thought of Picard and Company, let me throw out one of my favorite quotes, from Star Trek: Insurrection – “Some of the darkest chapters in the history of my world involved the forced relocation of a small group of people to satisfy the demands of a large one. I’d hoped that we had learned from our mistakes, but it seems some of us haven’t.”

It’s no secret that many people – especially in countries where the horrors of war have reduced their homes and families to rubble and ashes – tend to look at flag-waving with fear, associating it with blind nationalism and conquering hordes, and history is replete with examples. With due respect to them, I maintain there are light-years between patriotism and nationalism, and that it is possible to embrace the one and abhor the other.

In his “Notes on Nationalism,” George Orwell said, “By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people [emphasis added]. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality. ”

Especially in the aftermath of 9/11, an outpouring of national sentiment could be forgiven; after all, our nation had suffered a horrific, direct attack by a hostile external force. Yes, there were pockets of idiocy to be found, but the vast majority of our populace saw the enemy for what it was – not a nation, a people, a race or a faith to be subjugated, but rather a small and deadly coalition of radicals who were opposed to the fundamental principles of freedom and equality upon which our nation was founded.

This iconic image captured the heart of the nation in the days following that terrible moment, and served to send a message to those who would hurt and make afraid; not a message of conquest or domination, but rather of stalwart determination: You may hurt us, but we will heal, and we will be stronger; and we will not rest until we find you.

Every nation has its wars, and every war has its soldiers; some volunteer, but most are drafted. The vast majority of those who fight and die in national conflicts have little idea what they are really fighting for,  but they put the uniform on and fight just the same. For their sacrifice and their willingness to serve, we honor them, and that honor has very little to do with patriotism, and nothing to do with nationalism; it has only to do with respect for their stalwart bravery, and the ongoing sacrifices made by the families of those who never came home.

I wave the flag on Memorial Day to honor those who gave up their tomorrows that I and my children might enjoy ours. That’s what Memorial Day means to me, and I am not ashamed.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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