The Federal Republic of Germany was formed in the wake of one of the most infamous dictatorships in history – the Third Reich. That dictatorship was made possible when leaders in the Weimar Republic effectively eliminated legislative oversight of the Executive Branch. Without such oversight, Hitler acted quickly to consolidate his power and limit civil liberties, leading to the death of millions.
Given this history, it is not surprising that a key focus of the German post-war constitution was ensuring sufficient and ongoing oversight of the Executive Branch. The Bundestag – which is analogous to the United States House of Representatives – exercises this oversight power. As is stated in its public relations guide, Facts: The Bundestag at a glance, the Bundestag “exercises an important power of scrutiny over the Government. No Chancellor or government minister can escape this scrutiny.” Specifically,
The executive branch is “required to keep the Bundestag regularly informed of its plans and intentions.”
The Bundestag also has the right to appoint committees of inquiry, and it is required to do so if one quarter of its members request it. The role of these committees is to “investigate possible abuses in government and administration and possible misconduct on the part of politicians. “
The committees of inquiry can order the executive branch to submit files, and call government representatives as witnesses.
Other parliamentary groups can also demand written information on particular issues, and these can lead to “parliamentary debates in which the Government is required to present its case and answer questions.”
Even individual members “can submit written questions to the Government, and government representatives are required to give direct answers to those questions” at question and answer sessions with ministers at scheduled times.
Germany is not the only country that has experienced a struggle between its democracy and a leader who resists oversight. The book How Democracies Die, details multiple instances of democracies in both Europe and South America that were undermined and diminished by autocratic leaders who rejected legislative oversight and denied the legitimacy of their political opponents. It is not uncommon for an autocratic leader to dismiss oversight efforts as subversive, criminal, disloyal, or opposed to constitutional order. Legislative oversight is not, however, a departure from our constitutional order. Legislative oversight is one of the foundations of a democratic government.
How robust is our democracy? That depends on us. As the authors of How Democracies Die point out, “Democratic institutions depend crucially on the willingness of governing parties to defend them – even against their own leaders.” That means speaking up for democratic values and democratic institutions. Critical thinking, independent judgment, a willingness to review information from many different sources, the ability to defuse appeals to hate and fear, and dialogue across partisan lines both by citizens and parties, are all important tools for strengthening our democracy. If you care about your freedom and your democracy, use them, and request that your elected representatives do so as well.
Posted in democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, politics, Resources
Tagged accountabiity, Bundestag, democracy, democracy decline, executive oversight, executive power, Germany, government, legislative oversight, partisan politics, politics, United States
“Democracy must be reborn in each generation and education is its midwife.” (John Dewey)
How do we teach engaged citizenship and the kind of deliberative dialogue that can lead to wise public judgments? We can’t leave it to to schools, and we certainly can’t leave it to political parties who promote factionalism and hyper-partisanship. Each generation must teach democratic values and practices to the next. My generation (Boomers) hasn’t done the best job.
As one small effort to remedy this deficit, we have written several e-books designed to help citizens and community organizations plan and host public dialogues. These books are relatively short and provide pragmatic advice related to planning, hosting, and facilitating dialogue in your community. In honor of Law Day and last week’s National Week of Conversation we have discounted the prices by 50% and the discounted prices will stay in effect until May 21 when the higher prices return. Following is a short description and link to each book. We would welcome your feedback!
Understanding the Facilitation Cycle –
For busy people about to engage a tough crowd on challenging issues. A quick, 20 page read. There are eight phases in the Facilitation Cycle. The first phase, Greeting, starts even before your meeting begins and before your participants come into the room. The last, Send Forth, magnifies the impact of your successful event for days and weeks after it has concluded. Current discounted price $3.99 (normally $7.99).
Dealing With Disruptors –
What if you could make that disruptive energy productive? What if you could work with disruptors to increase understanding, broaden support, and build trust in your community? Dealing with Disruptors provides tools and a framework to make that happen. Current discounted price $4.99 (normally $10.99).
Navigating With 3D Evaluation: Public Dialogue for Results
– Public engagement and dialogue can achieve valuable, lasting outcomes, but only when supported by ongoing, systematic analysis. This book shows you how to work with participants to set goals, engage everyone through a shared vision, maintain trust through common priorities and interim targets, navigate around obstacles like budget cutbacks and changes in political leadership, determine who is responsible for honoring the commitments made around the dialogue process, and demonstrate the value of your work. Current discounted price $4.99 (normally $9.99).
Posted in Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Our Tools, Our Work, Resources
Tagged community, democracy, education, facilitation, government, next generation, politics, Resources, teaching, Tools
A Metaphor From The Midwest
Once you have your field, the next step in preparing for the harvest is to till, or cultivate, the soil. This means preparing the soil for planting, which includes both plowing to break up the soil and fertilizing to add nutrients. Both of these help the seeds you subsequently plant to grow.
In our political field, trust – a respect and belief in the integrity, good intentions, and capabilities of others – is the soil that helps us grow and flourish as a society. The trends discussed in our last post have depleted our communal trust. Using the rubric of “trust taxes” and “trust dividends” described in Stephen Covey’s “Speed of Trust“, these trends have resulted in a destructive tax on the citizenry. This is evidenced through the growing number of citizens who view those not of their own political party as “the enemy”, the excessive defensive posturing and legal positioning by our political parties, and the general level of venom used in discussing differences of interest or information. All of these factors suggest a “trust tax” of 60% or more. This is a very high burden.
So how might we use dialogue to remediate some of the damage that has been done? Below are three actions that can help break up the hard crust of fear and anger that has formed, followed by two that can help prepare the ground for new growth.
- Invite. Invite others into dialogue. Simply choosing to use dialogue rather than debate – to move beyond the right/wrong, win/lose framing used in debate and actually explore the complexities of intersecting issues — is a step towards building trust. By choosing dialogue you are moving from an “Us” v. “You” competitive dynamic into a more inclusive “we are in this together and will be stronger together” partnership and problem solving mode. You might begin by acknowledging differences in values or interests while also exploring similarities, by exploring the different questions being asked, or by comparing and evaluating the different sources of information that are being used. An invitation can be as simple as asking questions like “How would we like it to be? Why?” Although you can introduce dialogue in everyday conversation, there are also many resources and organized efforts you can connect to and invite others to join. Two current efforts include the Kettering Foundation’s annual “A Public Voice” collaboration and the Better Angels “One America” bus tour.
- Align. If you are going to invite others into dialogue, once you are there you need to act like you mean it. The communication patterns that promote dialogue are the opposite of competing factions spitting “trigger words” at each other or ridiculing, rather than engaging with, other points of view. No one likes to be attacked, dismissed, or shamed. If you are going to sustain a dialogue, you will need to act in ways that show interest in, and care and concern for, the others in dialogue. This means aligning your comments with a focus on the relationship, not just the issue being discussed. You can also think about how to align your narratives and questions with stories of wisdom and the common good.
- Listen: Often we ‘listen’ simply to find the gap in the conversation in which we might insert our own views, or to harvest fragments of statements to use in our rejoinder. This is not what we mean by “Listen”. Instead we mean listening in ways that attend to the speaker. This includes reflecting back an understanding of the speaker’s emotions and concerns, and inviting further thoughts on what might help the speaker move forward. This kind of reflective listening calms emotions and enhances the speaker’s ability to process new information. It also strengthens relationships and builds trust by demonstrating respect for the speaker’s presence in the dialogue.
- Educate. John Dewey once said, “Democracy must be reborn in every generation and education is its midwife.” Oliver Wendell Holmes observed that “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” As the last election showed, many citizens lack an understanding of how their government actually works, use very different sources of information, are unsure of their own ability to influence the decisions that are made, and might benefit from additional skills in the areas of communication and critical thinking. Dialogue can help in all of these areas. Note that in dialogue, education occurs through asking open-ended questions, sharing resources and experiences, and inviting reflection, not through lecturing or proselytizing.
- Commit. Studies in different fields demonstrate that taking personal responsibility for one’s views and actions improves how information is processed, shared and evaluated. It also builds trust. This kind of commitment and willingness to be accountable for what one says and does is aligned with sincerity. It is the opposite of the “bullshit” discussed in the last post. Taking responsibility for what you think and say, admitting what you don’t know, and inviting others to do the same, is the essence of effective dialogue.
Posted in Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, politics, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged Best Practices, communication, community, Dialogue, facilitation, government, political discourse, politics, teaching, thinking, Trust, United States
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963
True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1958
During this last election cycle, the rhetoric form both political parties has reflected the patterns of hate. Although division, distrust, and rancor between political parties is not new, it is worsening. This trend is a threat to our ability to grow our economy, preserve our freedoms, and provide opportunities for all Americans to thrive.
We as citizens hold the power to stop the slide. If you are willing to change the way you talk and listen, and demand the same of both those who would seek to represent you, and of the media you consume, our country’s divides would begin to heal.
The legal system can force open doors and sometimes even knock down walls. But it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me. Afro and White, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, our fates are bound together. We can run from each other but we cannot escape each other. We will only attain freedom if we learn to appreciate what is different and muster the courage to discover what is fundamentally the same. America’s diversity offers so much richness and opportunity. Take a chance, won’t you? Knock down the fences that divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison. Reach out, freedom lies just on the other side. We should have liberty for all. – Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1992
If you believe in the aphorism “united we stand, divided we fall,’ reach out and start a new conversation. Use dialogue not debate. Listen for and share the stories of wisdom that can illuminate our next steps.
At this time when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify -as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize – is more important than ever. – President Barack Obama, 2017
Take a chance won’t you?
Posted in Dialogue
Tagged communication, community, democracy, divides, government, hate, healing, Martin Luther King Jr, partisan, peace, politics, stories of wisdom, storytelling
Over this last week we have looked at how a commitment to civility and more widespread use of the communication tools that mediators use can make a difference in our national politics. During the US government shut-down, it was reported (NYT 10/101/13) that Bruce Josten, a lobbyist for the US Chamber of Commerce, was making the rounds advising Democrats and Republicans alike that
The name calling, blame gaming – using slurs like jihadists, terrorist, cowards, that kind of language – it does not get you to a deal . . .
As ABA Resolution 108 warned, that kind of language appeals to and inflames personal hates and resentments, promotes division, and leads to stalemates. We can change. By using stories of wisdom that emphasize our interdependence and other mediation techniques in our personal and public conversations we can begin to heal some of the partisan divides and work through the complex issues that affect our future together. In his remarks to the nation, the president quoted our pledge of allegiance “One nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”. Is it possible? We can certainly do better.
Ongoing progress requires not just vigilance in changing destructive patterns of communication, it will require ongoing commitment to the rule of law. Writing in his recent book “American Lawyers“, Paul D. Carrington observed
The law is really the main thread in the fabric of organized society. It is the compulsory part of the rules men have arrived at for living together. There is dignity and pride in dealing with the law. Our great public buildings, capitols, and courts, are designed to express that dignity. They are the homes of government and law. And government itself is law.
This country’s lawyers and dispute resolution professionals are uniquely equipped to help us find a way forward – resolving problems rather than simply quarreling with periodic respites over the same issues.
Commit to leading wherever you can, with civility, and with the rule of law as your foundation.
Posted in democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Online, Our Tools, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged civil discourse, civil public discourse, civility, critical thinking, democracy, government, mediation week, politics, rule of law, United States