On Jan. 26, the famously free-speaking Barney Frank will deliver what will undoubtedly be an invigorating lecture titled “Democratic Values after Trump: A Frank View” at Portland State University.
The 12th annual Gus & Libby Solomon Memorial Lecture, presented by The Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies, will begin at 7 p.m. The event is free to the public, however seating in the main event room has sold out. Overflow space with a live video feed will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis within Lincoln Hall, at 1620 SW Park Ave.
Frank served Massachusetts as a prominent member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 32 years before retiring in 2013. As a congressman, he co-authored the sweeping financial reform act known as Dodd-Frank, and he tirelessly pushed for gay equality and increased housing for low-income Americans.
Street Roots spoke with Frank in advance of his Portland appearance. We began by asking him if he thought – as the title of his lecture might suggest – that Democratic values need to shift under a Trump Presidency.
“No,” he said. “It’s how you best fight for them.”
Emily Green: And how would you say that is?
Barney Frank: Well, I think we can take advantage of a couple of things that he did. First of all, for years, many of us in the Democratic Party have been fighting against unfair distribution. We were contested by the argument that this is class warfare, and there was kind of an establishment argument against that and overwhelming Republican opposition to it. Interestingly, Trump, in his perverse way, has legitimized talking about the unfairness of the distribution, although the point we have to make is, that having said that, virtually every public policy he talks about, or most of them, is going in the opposite direction.
Secondly, I think we could welcome him having said America doesn’t have to be as involved in the rest of the world as we have been. I think that once again, though he says something that I think is sensible – that we’ve been overextended – but then does the opposite in terms of policy by proposing a vast increase in the military budget. I think we could take him at his word – that yes, there is an unfairness in the way the wealth is distributed, and yes, America has been doing too much in other countries, and we’ve overcommitted ourselves in the world – but (we could) in fact advocate the policies that would make sense given that, as opposed to his. Because his specifics – it would conflict with his general (position).
The other point we can make is, once again, he talks about the need to stand up for the average guy, to stand up against some of the established interests, but his policy goes in exactly the opposite direction than what we should be doing. I’m just pointing out, for instance, he’s the one who wants to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and allow the derivatives market to get back out of control.
E.G.: As he did get elected saying there was great unfairness in wealth distribution, do you see an opportunity here for Democratic voters and the voters who elected Trump to unite, at least, on that?
B.F.: Some of the voters.
I think there is a chance for Democrats to point out now that he has to deliver, that his specific policies make things worse.
I think what we can do now is, first of all, when he starts making his policy proposals – he’s already done that – is point out how he’s done the exact opposite of what he said.
How is knocking people off Medicaid, for example, going to make things more equal? Or appointing people who think we should undo the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?
I think we should be able to win back some of the people who voted for him by pointing out how much he is going the opposite direction, and I think we need to do more as well to show it.
Particularly, the single biggest thing for us to do is to propose a significant cut in military spending. To deal with it, you need to do a number of things, but really, the most important is to get more funding for the federal government so you can help people with some of the impacts of inequality.
Trump’s right: We don’t have to be so militarized; other countries should be doing more. Let’s free up over $100 billion a year, which we can then use to expand Medicare, and to really fund higher education and vocational education, etc.
E.G.: I began our last interview asking you about how you’ve seen the rules of the political game change throughout your career. It seems to have changed drastically again this past election cycle, with Twitter and small donors making big impacts. Would you say the political game is changing for better or for worse?
B.F.: Let’s put it this way: Some of the changes were good; some of them were bad. You can’t characterize all of them.
I think people were insufficiently skeptical of the Internet. That was very negative: the great misinformation that people, including the regular media, were not aware of. I think we have some correction there. I think there will be less susceptibility to misinformation from the internet going forward.
E.G.: After reversing their attempt at gutting the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, House Republicans gave congressional staff subpoena power. What do these preliminary moves tell us about what to expect over the next four years?
B.F.: One of the things that has helped people on the right – they were able to kind of blame everything bad that happened on us. I think that’s reversing. … They’re in charge now. If people get cut off of Medicare or lose their medical care because of what they do, that will be their problem.
So I think what will happen going forward is they may try to continue their model of blaming other people, but they have the House, they have the Senate, they have the presidency, they have the nominee to the Supreme Court; I think it’s going to be hard, given that, for them to blame things that go wrong on the Mexicans.
E.G.: Donald Trump told “60 Minutes” that same-sex marriage is a settled issue. Does this mean it’s safe under a Trump presidency?
B.F.: Not entirely. Yes, it’s a settled issue, and the chief justice is much too reasonable, albeit a conservative, to want to undo it.
But here’s the problem: I think that he will go along with the congressional Republicans, especially with Pence in there as vice president.
They’re going to make it easier for people to ignore our rights by saying religion trumps our rights. That’s what they are going to do.
Email staff reporter Emily Green at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GreenWrites.
If you go
What: “Democratic Values after Trump: A Frank View,” Solomon lecture with Barney Frank
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 26
Where: Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave., Portland
Seating: Tickets are sold out; overflow space with a live video feed is first come, first served