When it comes to the threats to global democracy, the call is coming from inside the house.
U.S.-based NGO Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World report, released Monday, found that for the 13th straight year, global freedom has declined. (The report scores countries on 25 indicators—factors like rule of law and freedom of the press—and categorizes them as “free,” “partly free,” or “not free.”) For much of this period, which political scientist Larry Diamond has called the “democratic recession,” the declines show non-democratic governments, particularly in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, are becoming more repressive.
But Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, says that the drivers of the decline are starting to shift. “What you’re seeing the last year or two is more established democracies suffering declines in institutions and norms, particularly countries that had been improving had heading toward stronger democracy heading back,” he says. According to the report, “Of the 41 countries that were consistently ranked Free from 1985 to 2005, 22 have registered net score declines in the last five years.”
The poster child for this trend is Hungary—which thanks to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s attacks on the free press, independent NGOs, academia, and the rights of migrants—dropped from “free” to “partly free” in this year’s report, making it the first non-free member of the European Union ever recorded. Serbia, an EU candidate state, also dropped to partly free. Slovakia and Montenegro both saw significant declines in their scores. Brazil’s election of Jair Bolsonaro, late last year, is another example of this trend, though one that happened too late to have had a major impact on the score.
The report contains a particularly scathing section about the United States, which did not see a change in score this year but has been on a downward trend for about eight years. In other words, Donald Trump may be more the symptom than the cause of America’s democratic decline, although the report faults him for “straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system” with his “attacks on essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections.” The U.S. score on the report is now significantly below that of democratic peers like Canada, Britain, Germany, and Japan and is more in line with countries like Belize, Croatia, Greece, and Mongolia. [Continue reading…]