- Global freedom hit its worst point in 15 years in 2020, according to a new Freedom House report.
- Freedom House said Trump oversaw “unprecedented attacks” on US democracy.
- The report warned that Trump provided “ample fodder” for authoritarians to downplay abuses.
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Last year was the worst year for global democracy in roughly a decade and a half, according to the latest iteration of Freedom House’s annual “Freedom in the World” report.
Democracy has been on a downslide for 15 consecutive years, but 2020 stands out in terms of the number of countries experiencing a decline in freedoms compared to those who saw improvements. In 2020, just 28 countries became more democratic while 73 saw a decline in freedoms associated with democracy, Freedom House said, marking “the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006.”
“The long democratic recession is deepening,” the report said. “The impact of the long-term democratic decline has become increasingly global in nature, broad enough to be felt by those living under the cruelest dictatorships, as well as by citizens of long-standing democracies. Nearly 75 percent of the world’s population lived in a country that faced deterioration last year.”
Freedom House, a Washington-based non-profit and democracy watchdog established in 1941, analyzed the state of political freedoms and civil liberties in 195 countries and 15 territories for this year’s report.
The 2021 report, which was compiled with the help of over 150 experts, provides global freedom ratings for each country and territory per a scoring system involving 25 indicators on the strength of their democracy. Based on the score the receive (from 0 to 100), countries are then ranked under three categories: Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.
According to the 2021 report, less than 20% of the global population “now lives in a Free country, the smallest proportion since 1995.” The proportion of “Not Free” countries is the highest its been in 15 years.
‘Unprecedented attacks on one of the world’s most visible and influential democracies’
The report paints a grim picture of the state of democracy in the US and worldwide. It excoriates former President Donald Trump over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the “unprecedented attacks on one of the world’s most visible and influential democracies” during his final weeks in office.
“The parlous state of US democracy was conspicuous in the early days of 2021 as an insurrectionist mob, egged on by the words of outgoing president Donald Trump and his refusal to admit defeat in the November election, stormed the Capitol building and temporarily disrupted Congress’s final certification of the vote,” the report said.
“Only a serious and sustained reform effort can repair the damage done during the Trump era to the perception and reality of basic rights and freedoms in the United States,” Freedom House said, adding that Trump “presided over an accelerating decline in US freedom scores” even before 2020.
The US aggregate “Freedom in the World” score has declined by 11 points in the past decade, Freedom House said, which places it in the company of 25 countries that have “suffered the largest declines” during the same period.
The report underscores that the US still has a major influence over global democracy, warning that events in Trump’s last year as president provided authoritarians “ample new fodder” to downplay abuses in their own countries.
Along these lines, Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, told the Washington Post newsletter Today’s WorldView, “After the events of the Capitol, from a propaganda point of view, we handed a big victory to autocrats.”
Such concerns have been echoed by politicians, diplomats, political scientists, and democracy experts across the world about Trump’s disinformation campaign on the 2020 election and the Capitol riot.
“Trump has given despots across the world fresh rhetorical ammunition to justify their authoritarian actions,” Brian Klaas, a political scientist at the University College London, told Insider last month.