Democracy is under assault and in retreat around the globe, a crisis that has intensified as America’s democratic standards erode at an accelerating pace, according to Freedom in the World 2018, the latest edition of the annual report on political rights and civil liberties, released today by Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/article/democracy-crisis-freedom-house-releases-freedom-world-2018
The report finds that 2017 was the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2017, with only 35 registering gains. Once-promising states such as Turkey, Venezuela, Poland, and Tunisia were among those experiencing declines in democratic standards. The recent democratic opening in Myanmar was permanently damaged by a shocking campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority.
“Democracy is facing its most serious crisis in decades,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Democracy’s basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—are under siege around the world.”
Freedom in the World 2018 reports on how China and Russia have taken advantage of the retreat of leading democracies both to increase repression at home and to export their malign influence to other countries. To maintain power, these autocratic regimes are acting beyond their borders to squelch open debate, pursue dissidents, and compromise rules-based institutions.
A major development of 2017 was the retreat of the United States as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy. While Freedom House has tracked a slow decline in political rights and civil liberties in the United States for the past seven years, the decline accelerated in 2017, owing to growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, violations of basic ethical standards by the new administration, and a reduction in government transparency.
Although U.S. institutions like the press and the judiciary have remained resilient in the face of unprecedented attacks from President Trump, the attacks could ultimately leave them weakened, with serious implications for the health of U.S. democracy and America’s place in the world. Meanwhile, the abdication of the traditional U.S. role as the leading champion of democracy is of deep concern and potential consequence in the ongoing struggle against modern authoritarians and their pernicious ideas.
“The core institutions of American democracy are being battered by an administration that has treated the country’s traditional checks and balances with disdain,” Abramowitz said.
“The Trump administration has made a sharp break from the political consensus of the last 70 years by casting aside democracy as the animating force behind American foreign policy,” Abramowitz added. “The hastening withdrawal of the United States from its historical commitment to supporting democracy overseas makes the challenge posed by authoritarian regimes all the more powerful and threatening.”
Of the 195 countries assessed, 88 (45 percent) were rated Free, 58 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 49 (25 percent) Not Free.