With the U.S. Backsliding, Who Will Defend Democracy in the World?

With the U.S. Backsliding, Who Will Defend Democracy in the World?
The Statue of Freedom on top of the Capitol Dome in Washington, Jan. 15, 2020 (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).

As Democratic voters in America enter a decisive stage in determining who should face Donald Trump in the November presidential election, Freedom House has issued an alarming report on the status of representative government worldwide. The annual report, titled “Freedom in the World 2020,” makes for sobering reading. For the 14th consecutive year, democracy lost ground to tyranny in 2019. Authoritarian regimes are emboldened. Long-established democracies are slipping. And attacks on religious minorities and other vulnerable populations are surging.

The human yearning for freedom remains powerful, as evinced by recent protest movements in Hong Kong, Algiers, Khartoum and Tehran. Unfortunately, Freedom House notes, the global struggle for democracy is “leaderless.” The United States, the oldest and most influential democracy, is no longer liberty’s clear champion. India, the largest democracy, has taken a dangerous nativist turn that threatens the foundations of its secular and pluralist society. China has happily filled this vacuum, using new repressive technologies to crush dissent at home and undermine freedom abroad.

Each year, Freedom House assigns 195 nations and territories to one of three categories: free, partly free and not free. The percentage of free countries, 42.6 percent, still exceeds those deemed partly free or not free—32.3 percent and 25.1, respectively. But the trend is not moving in freedom’s direction. During 2019, political rights and civil liberties deteriorated in 64 countries, while just 37 countries saw improvements. All regions of the globe experienced setbacks, most dramatically in Africa, where Benin, formerly a good performer on Freedom House’s scale, showed the world’s sharpest decline. The situation is not hopeless. Even in Africa, for instance, Sudan, Madagascar and Ethiopia registered important gains. But it is ominous.

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