This marks a sharp break from other post-World War II U.S. presidents, who cooperated with certain authoritarian regimes for strategic reasons but never wavered from a commitment to democracy as both the best form of government and the animating force behind American foreign policy. It also reflects 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 begun to emulate their authoritarian approach.
Freedom House specifically takes the Trump administration to task for eroding democratic norms, noting its failure to uphold anti-corruption practices we’ve long demanded of others. Moreover:
The president has also lambasted and threatened the media — including sharp jabs at individual journalists — for challenging his routinely false statements, has spoken disdainfully of judges who blocked his decisions, and has attacked the professional staff of law enforcement and intelligence agencies. He has signaled contempt for Muslims and Latin American immigrants, and has singled out some African Americans for his vitriolic criticism. He pardoned a sheriff convicted of ignoring federal court orders to halt racially discriminatory policies, and, after making a campaign promise to ban all foreign Muslims from entering the United States, issued an executive order restricting travel from a group of Muslim-majority countries.
Meanwhile, with the U.S. commitment to human rights dormant, China and Russia have continued their quest to destabilize and weaken democracies around the globe. From the Freedom House report:
Already, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has carried out disinformation campaigns before elections in countries including the United States, France, and Germany, cultivated ties to xenophobic political parties across Europe, threatened or invaded its closest neighbors, and served as an alternative source of military aid for Middle Eastern dictatorships. . . . [China] has built up a propaganda and censorship apparatus with global reach, used economic and other ties to influence democracies like Australia and New Zealand, compelled various countries to repatriate Chinese citizens seeking refuge abroad, and provided diplomatic and material support to repressive governments from Southeast Asia to Africa.
Regimes such as Turkey have regressed, moving to the category of “not free.” Across the Middle East, countries such as Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia (among others) have repressed their own people.
In Central and South America, the “Democracy in Crisis” report added, “the humanitarian crisis produced in Venezuela by President Nicolás Maduro’s determination to stay in power continued to drive residents to seek refuge in neighboring countries. But other Latin American states also proved problematic: Brazil’s sprawling corruption investigations implicated leaders across the region. Mexico’s embattled administration resisted reforms that would help address rampant graft, organized crime, and a crumbling justice system.”
What has been missing in this administration is any appreciation that democracies elsewhere are essential to our own freedoms. “The autocratic regimes in Russia and China clearly recognize that to maintain power at home, they must squelch open debate, pursue dissidents, and compromise rules-based institutions beyond their borders. The citizens and leaders of democracies must now recognize that the reverse is also true: To maintain their own freedoms, they must defend the rights of their counterparts in all countries. The reality of globalization is that our fates are interlinked,” the report went on to say.
If we want international stability, respect for national borders, vibrant trading partners and cooperative allies, the United States will need to stop the retreat from democracy. Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that will come until we have a new president.
UPDATE: Freedom House also has put out an informative and powerful video:
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