Barney Frank, former Massachusetts representative and the first member of the U.S. Congress to marry someone of the same sex while in office, spoke at the annual Weil Lecture on American Citizenship Thursday in Carroll Hall.
The lecture is hosted by The Institute for the Arts and Humanities every other year and brings prominent speakers to talk about issues facing the country.
Frank's speech focused on how the American government could be more effective and how American citizens could be more empowered to trust the government.
“We are in a situation now in America where public belief in the value of citizenship is at an all time low,” he said.
The lecture began with an introduction by Mark Katz, director of The Institute for the Arts and Humanities, who praised the series as an important opportunity for the UNC students to interact with notable public figures.
“If part of UNC’s mission as a public institution is to shape well-informed citizens, then the Weil Lecture certainly plays a role in accomplishing that goal,” Katz said.
The Weil lecture is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, with various well-known figures having spoken throughout the century — including Jimmy Carter, Eleanor Roosevelt and John Kerry.
The lecture was attended by both UNC students and community members, who listened to the former Congress member encourage cuts in defense spending and decriminalization of various illegal substances. He said both could boost public support for the government.
“The fundamental problem is that people hate the government and so they vote people into office who also don't like the government," Frank said. "And those people end up making the government worse, so voters end up hating it more."
He also blamed social media for the way media outlets portray the government — in small clips that give readers a false sense of knowing the full story. Frank said he saw this as an important obstacle America was fighting to combat a waning public faith in the government.
“There’s this terrible vice in the media about forgetting about good news because people just want to hear the bad news," Frank said.
Jayce Bentley, a junior at UNC, said she was impressed by the way Frank laid out the problem of government but also proposed ways to solve issues.
“I didn’t know what to expect from the lecture but I was really surprised at the way that Barney Frank didn’t avoid the hard topics like some politicians,” said UNC sophomore McKinnon Brown.
The lecture was coupled with a question and answer seminar earlier in the day that featured Susan King, dean of UNC’s School of Media and Journalism.
She said the seminar was well-attended, with 50-75 guests.
King attributed the high attendance of the session to the fact that Frank was speaking later.
Until the relationship of the media, citizens, and politicians change, Frank said government will continue to be viewed as the problem, not the solution.
“The government needs to be seen as a positive institute," he said.
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