With the State of the Union Speech on Tuesday night, the nation is braced to hear President Donald Trump’s take on the state of affairs in the country.
There will likely be talk of political unity and rifts, witch hunts, a booming economy, and, of course, the border wall without which we’re led to believe the United States will turn into a movie version of a narco-cartel-infested Central American country.
But another — perhaps more tangible — way to measure the country’s state of affairs is by gauging how the United States is faring as a democracy. And according to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, released late Monday night, things are definitely going in the wrong direction.
“This is the thirteenth consecutive year in the decline in political rights and civil liberties globally,” said Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, in a call with reporters.
“What’s interesting about the findings this year is that during most of those thirteen years, countries with already poor or faltering governance were getting worse. Now, however, the deterioration is already taking place in established democracies,” he added. And he wasn’t just talking about countries such as Germany or Austria, where the far-right has made gains over the past year.
He was talking about the United States, which was given “special attention” in the annual report this year. Sure, the country is still a robust democracy by some global standards, but Abramowitz and his colleagues worry about Trump’s attacks on democratic values, the media, and the rule of law will do sustained damage to the country’s vital institutions.
The portion on what is happening in the United States under the Trump presidency is sobering, even for those who have been paying attention.
“No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, and independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections,” wrote Abramowitz, who authored that chapter in the report.
This report comes shortly after another one released by Transparency International last week, which put the United States on a “countries to watch” list after seeing its score drop for the first time since 2011.
“This decline comes at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power,” said the Transparency International report.
In case you were wondering where the United States places on Freedom House’s scorecard: According to Freedom House, we’re on par with Mongolia and Greece, and no longer on equal standing with France and the United Kingdom.
“The U.S. is obviously still a free country, but the trend across the board is one that is headed in an unfavorable direction,” said Michael Chertoff, Freedom House’s chairman of trustees and former secretary of homeland security.
Of course, other nations, allies and adversaries alike, are watching, and sadly, the United States is not alone in its decline.
Over all, 68 countries registered a decline, and among 41 long-standing democracies, more than half have seen a decline in the past five years. Many of those governments, including the United States, continue to use refugees as a fear factor, prompting people to turn to authoritarianism.
“From our perspective a big issue has been the global migration crisis — I think it’s still the largest number of refugees since World War II, and what you find is that that is creating a great deal of anxiety, especially in established democracies…and that is giving an opening for populist movements to gain strength, and in some cases, restrict the rights of immigrants,” said Abramowitz.