Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2019 report, released this week, confirms an alarming global trend: Democracy is in retreat. For the 13th consecutive year — since 2005 — the group documented an overall decline in global freedom. The reversals took place, moreover, not just in well-established authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia, but in long-standing democracies led by the United States.
The report also highlighted the worsening state of freedom in Hungary, Serbia, Nicaragua and Uganda, as independent institutions and media in these countries suffered from sustained attacks and smear campaigns or were subject to increasing restrictions imposed by those governments. Last year, a total of 68 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties during 2018, while only 50 registered gains.
The report catalogs the range of assaults on democracy and freedom, from an upsurge in ethnic cleansing and attacks on migrants and refugees to the “hollowing out” of elections and a “sustained attack” on freedom of expression — both on independent media and ordinary citizens — “supercharged” by an insidious new form of “digital authoritarianism.”
Freedom House also included a special assessment of the state of democracy in the United States, halfway through President Donald Trump’s term of office. Its conclusion:”The pillars of freedom have come under attack here in the United States… Trump has assailed 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.”
Some good news: Despite the various setbacks, 50 countries showed gains in freedom. Leading the way by cracking down on corruption and impunity, forcing corrupt leaders from office and instituting reforms were Angola, Armenia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, and Malaysia.