Political rights and civil liberties in the United States have experienced the fastest deterioration in decades under the administration of President Donald Trump, according to a new Freedom House report on the state of freedom and democracy in the world.
While the United States has seen a slow decline over the past several years, 2017 saw the biggest drop in the more than 40 years since Freedom House has tracked global freedom trends.
The report, released Tuesday, lists numerous developments that have weakened democracy in the United States, including evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, the Trump administration’s violations of ethical standards like the president’s failure to divest from his businesses and the hiring of his daughter and son-in-law as senior advisers, dwindling government transparency, and false statements by the president.
Overall, the United States’ score decreased by three points on the 100-point scale — a significant decline that is rare for an established democracy. The United States now holds a score of 86, putting it below France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
“[T]he Trump administration made explicit — in both words and actions — its intention to cast off principles that have guided U.S. policy and formed the basis for American leadership over the past seven decades,” the report reads.
Democratic norms within the United States were significantly undermined in 2017, as Trump criticized key institutions of democracy, including the press and the judiciary, as well as his law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The president also repeatedly questioned the integrity of the U.S. electoral process, making false claims that millions of votes had been cast illegally.
Trump’s flagrant disdain for immigrants — primarily Muslims, Latinx, and Black immigrants — have damaged the United States’ credibility abroad. The president frequently made policy decisions without consulting with other branches of government, including his executive order banning transgender individuals from serving the military and his repeated attempts to ban individuals from Muslim-majority countries.
Trump’s actions have also been detrimental to global security. Freedom House cites the president’s hostility toward international agreements on the environment and arms control, his lack of attention on universal rights, as well as his admiration for authoritarian leaders as evidence of a “sharp break” from past U.S. presidents, who “never wavered from a commitment to democracy”. The report added that these changes signal “an inability — or unwillingness — by the United States to lead democracies in effectively confronting the growing threat from Russia and China, and from other states that have come to emulate their authoritarian approach.”
Freedom House listed the United States, along with countries like Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Uzbekistan, among as one of 10 “Countries to Watch in 2018,” a list reserved for countries “that may be approaching important turning points in their democratic trajectory.”