Analysis: Democracy in decline, Trump not helping

The new report elucidates links between Donald Trump's rise to power and the dismal state of democracy worldwide

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published January 17, 2018 2:55PM (EST)

 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Data analyzed by Freedom House, a US-based think tank, have raised concerns about democracy, its future, and the influence it holds around the world. According to the report, democracy has faced its “most serious crisis in decades” — specifically, more countries have recently suffered from democratic setbacks rather than gains, for the twelfth consecutive year.

Freedom House reports that in 2017, 71 countries suffered political rights and civil liberty setbacks while only 35 reported gains. The report cites the atrocities in Myanmar regarding the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in 2017, and countries like Turkey and Hungary that once appeared to have promising democratic futures but which now are sliding back towards authoritarianism.

All of this is happening while “the world’s most powerful democracies are mired in seemingly intractable problems at home, including social and economic disparities, partisan fragmentation, terrorist attacks, and an influx of refugees that has strained alliances and increased fears of the 'other.'” The United States, the report says, has “retreated from its traditional role as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy.”

The report suggests various factors are at fault for democracy's global decline, but it calls out Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies, noting how they don’t position him as as an advocate of democracy.

The report says:

“President Trump’s 'America First' slogan, originally coined by isolationists seeking to block U.S. involvement in the war against fascism, targeted traditional notions of collective global security and mutually beneficial trade. The administration’s hostility and skepticism toward binding international agreements on the environment, arms control, and other topics confirmed that a reorientation was taking shape."

The report underscores how Trump rarely utters the word “democracy” abroad, and that his “personal friendships” with some of the world’s “most loathsome strongmen and dictators”—presumably people like Recep Erdogan and Vladimir Putin — marks a big change from previous president who, according to the report, “never wavered from a commitment to democracy as the best form of government and the animating force behind American foreign policy.”

“It also reflects an inability—or unwillingness—by the United States to lead democracies in effectively confronting the growing threat from Russia and China, and from the other states that have come to emulate their authoritarian approach,” the report explains.

Michael J. Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House, writes that while democracy's decline is troubling, more concerning is the notion that young people could be losing faith in democracy.

“Perhaps worst of all, and most worrisome for the future, young people, who have little memory of the long struggles against fascism and communism, may be losing faith and interest in the democratic project,” Abramowitz says.

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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Democracy Donald Trump Freedom House Michael J. Abramowitz