AN INSIDE LOOK - Commentary and opinions on local politics and life in general in Southeastern Massachusetts! Featuring the writings of Bill Gouveia, newspaper columnist for the Sun Chronicle and local cable TV talk show host. Feel free to read, comment and enjoy!
Regardless of what you think of President Donald Trump and the accomplishments (or lack of same) of his administration during his short time in office, one thing is undeniably true and evident: Donald Trump has changed the way government and a free press relate with one another and with the American people.
Whether the changes are good or bad, constructive or destructive, helpful or hurtful to the country — there is no doubt whatsoever they have occurred. And they may still only be the beginning, with deeper and more fundamental changes possibly still ahead.
Yeah, I know — that sounds like a lot of scary talk for political purposes. But it’s not.
It is instead a clear truth Americans see for themselves every day. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this situation is that as we are exposed to it more and more on a daily basis, we may be starting to accept it as normal. It is becoming the new standard for both journalism and government.
What am I talking about? It’s pretty simple.
The traditional role of the media in general has been challenged by government at the highest level. With considerable help from the media itself, the Trump administration has in just six months managed to weaken and limit the American ideal of a free and independent press in an unprecedented manner.
Forget the fact Trump has had exactly one — one — individual press conference during his first six months. That is unusual when you consider he has held at least two actual campaign rallies for the 2020 election in that same time. But it is only part of a bigger problem.
Trump’s White House has severely limited the daily press briefing, where much of the news about our government comes from. They have held fewer of them, refused to allow cameras at many of them, and limited access with threats to completely cut off various media and newspapers who offend them.
They have elevated the status of friendly websites and bloggers at the expense of actual journalistic entities. They have “punished” various media by diminishing their access and ability to ask questions.
And of course, the president in particular has branded everything he does not like or agree with as “Fake News.” There has been a clear strategy of winning the day by damaging the people who — in his mind — can harm him. He doesn’t bother with facts. He and his administration are always in attack mode.
This has caused a similar reaction in the media itself. Facing a government that seemingly has no shame and no need to back up what it says, television and newspapers are having to change their ways. In doing so, they are simultaneously strengthening and weakening their adherence to the fundamentals of reporting and opining. And frankly, I don’t think they have yet figured out exactly what to do.
While the government and the presidency certainly have rules that should be followed, this is different. This administration doesn’t play by rules — it makes new ones. And in the ongoing battle between the Trump administration and the American media, one thing is clear — the Trump administration is winning.
Donald Trump has used the media like no other candidate in our history. He sucked them into covering his every breath as a candidate, when frankly the attention was not deserved. He used them when he needed them, and cast them out when he did not.
When the press points out some of the crazy things he does or says (sorry folks, he does say and do crazy things), he claims he is being attacked. He finds those who will curry his favor and elevates their status. He can do this because, in his own words, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
The government is now effectively bypassing the American public by pretending they are only bypassing the press and the media. And they are doing it in such a way that a sizable segment of the public is praising them for it.
The pure genius of it would be quite admirable, if not for the fact it threatens the very principles upon which this country was built.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.
A short time ago, the entire Norton Recreation Committee resigned.
It was not sudden. It was not unexpected. In fact, they told people well in advance it could happen. Yet somehow, in a weird kind of reverse logic, many are blaming them for “abandoning” the program and the community most of them had worked tirelessly for many years to serve, without compensation.
To put it bluntly – that criticism is a giant load of crap.
As with most things governmental in Norton, the politics of this goes back to the dreaded “O” word – the failed overrides of the last two years. Norton is one of the few towns across the state that has never passed a general override of Proposition 2 1/2. And not surprisingly, that has resulted in cuts across the broad spectrum of municipal services.
Norton has no municipal trash pick-up. It has the same number of police officers it did in 1991. It has gone from five fire stations to one. And the recreation budget has been slashed so often and so deeply that the department itself virtually does not exist outside the small core of volunteers that selflessly kept it going with an embarrassingly small amount of financial support from the town.
For years, they gave of their time and themselves to provide programs for kids and adults. In addition to the recreation department, many of them became guiding forces behind the town’s Tricentennial celebration. That eventually turned into the annual Founder’s Day event. And boy, does everyone love Founder’s Day.
That’s when the town celebrates as a community. We have picnics. We have fireworks. We eat pies and cotton candy and sing lovely songs. It’s nice. It’s comfortable. It’s reflective of a community coming together.
But there was no Founder’s Day this year. That’s because before the last override, after years of waiting for the town to step up and take some of the burden it should rightfully bear, these volunteers warned residents and officials they were not going to keep doing it.
They helped get behind an override effort that supported schools, police, fire, senior citizens, and recreation. They believed in it, they fought for it. And they told people plainly, clearly, and without malice – if this plan failed, they were going back to their families. They were not going to continue enabling the town to run a professional program without professionals.
The override failed. They were disappointed. But they accepted the decision of the townspeople, and fully expected their decision would be extended the same courtesy. They stepped down.
And the whispering started. It turned into newspaper articles, letters to the editor, and postings on Facebook pages. And the blame for canceled programs and celebrations was pinned on them.
There was an attempt to save Founder’s Day this year. Ralph Stefanelli, the self-proclaimed “spokesman for voting No”, leader of the anti-override efforts, and part of the original Tri-Centennial planning group, volunteered to help oversee the new organizing effort. That is to his credit. But time and resources were scarce, and now the focus has shifted to next year.
In a video presentation on local cable access earlier this year, Mr. Stefanelli made a statement revealing his general philosophy on local government, and explaining in part why he opposed the override seeking to provide improved local services, stating:
“Because most of us don’t believe in community, we believe in individualism.”
Founder’s Day is great. It is a wonderful, fun celebration of community. And it is a shame it got canceled this year.
Of course, community is more than a single celebration. It is good schools, good public safety, good services and yes – a properly-funded recreation department. Fighting for those things is not always fun. It is not glamorous. It is not easy.
The recreation and Founder’s Day volunteers who stopped volunteering were not punishing the town. They were not sore losers concerning the override. They did not abandon their community.
They merely tired of enabling the town to claim it provided recreational services without paying its share for them. They sacrificed their individualism without getting much community support in return. They just wish the value of the Recreation Department was deemed as important as keeping Founder’s Day. Because to them, true community is important.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime Norton official. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook