Editorial: Looking back on 2016, to see what’s ahead in the new year

Something there is about the human condition that seeks to review the past year lived as we embrace the new. Newspapers, magazines and digital blogs create Top 10 stories, Top 20 photos, Top 12 best digital gadgets — whatever the meme might be. The goal is to get readers to pause a moment, think and reflect on what we might have learned so that we might create a better world (or at least better ourselves) in the year to come.
That presupposes, of course, that seeking out truth and being able to discern it from untruths, in this age of Trump and Putin, is a valued objective. But more on that later.
First, a quick review of three of the Addison Independent’sTop 10 stories of 2016. Heading the list was the school consolidation initiatives that passed locally in response to Act 46. All four union high schools in the county eventually approved such measures, which will fundamentally alter the way schools are governed. It is hoped that the efficiencies in shared services and administration will create savings, as well as greater opportunities for students. Challenges, nonetheless, loom. While Act 46 focused on consolidating school governance, will boards also press for the smallest schools to merge years down the road as taxpayers press for lower taxes? If better student outcomes were part of the impetus for Act 46, how will that be measured? And can a consolidated governance structure still retain the community involvement that has long been a hallmark of Vermont life? It’s a story on its first chapter with much more to come.
The upheaval at Porter Hospital was our number two story. As the primary health care center serving the county’s 36,000 people, any trauma at Porter affects us all. The good news is that the rise and fall of CEO Lynn Boggs was like the eruption of a volcano: for the first eight months of her tenure, all seemed well enough, then warning signs began late in 2015, erupting in early February 2016. That was followed by a couple of weeks of turmoil and uncertainty, then board action, her resignation and the hospital’s eventual recovery under the guidance of then-interim CEO Dr. Fred Kniffin. The year ended with Porter seeking to affiliate with UVM Health Network, another potential big change for Porter Medical Center, doctors and staff, patients and the town.
The election ranked third, though it’s easy to argue this story overwhelmed everything. From Sen. Bernie Sanders’ meteoritic rise as a national figure, to Donald Trump’s dismantling of his opponents through bullying and uncouth tactics, to Hillary Clinton’s inability to spark enthusiasm with voters, it was an election that dominated the news cycle. It was all people could talk about and as it went on and on, it seemed to grow more unseemly and outrageous with each development — from the Democratic Party favoring Clinton over Sanders, to Trump’s boasts of his sexual exploitation of women, to Russia’s hacking of emails and sharing them through WikiLeaks to boost Trump, to FBI Director James Comey’s controversial decision to reopen Clinton’s email investigation at the 11th hour. Topping it off, Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes and lost three of four swing states by less than 1.5 percent — states that could have overwhelmingly given the Electoral College vote to Clinton. Instead, Trump’s victory and Clinton’s crushing defeat stunned the nation, unleashing hate speech and rightwing bigotry in unprecedented levels and setting the stage for unpredictable change under a Trump presidency.
Oh, and Republican Phil Scott beat Democrat Sue Minter for governor of Vermont, while Progressive David Zuckerman won as lieutenant governor.
Seven other stories received our attention (see our Top 10 special section within these pages), all worthy of review and which sparked significant community interest — much of which will be continued into 2017.
A story we did not mention was the rise of “fake news” and the end of the honeymoon for social media. The story’s protagonist was President-elect Donald Trump and his use of Twitter to spread disinformation and outright lies, followed by openly partisan political “news” sites that gave such falsehoods the appearance of legitimacy, or at least more air time. The effect was historic with conservative Americans, in particular, believing “fake news” more often than believing credible news stories, according to polls conducted in the last weeks of the general election.
Social media’s swan song may be premature, but certainly a more apt moniker today is “anti-social media.” What we learned in this presidential campaign is that social media is not a place to get reliable information; it breeds anger, hatred and irresponsible behavior; and its very “private” nature (that is posts are written in private and with anonymity) seems to encourage people to issue threats, insults and vulgarities to others in ways that almost never happens in public discourse. There are good aspects to social media, but unless corrective action is taken, the good may be lost to the bad. Even Facebook has lost its luster and is in need of a recalibration.
In the meantime, our sincere thanks to loyal readers and subscribers (all 20,000-plus “friends” in today’s parlance):  We wish you peace, joy, credible information, and much happiness in 2017.
Angelo S. Lynn

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