As George W. Bush brought his 2003 State of the Union address to a close, he reminded the country of this powerful statement: “Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to humanity.”
That gift to humanity is now in its 13th year of decline around the world, and the repercussions are ominous.
According to “Freedom in the World,” a report by the human rights watchdog group Freedom House, democracy is waning. A handful of countries have been downgraded in their freedom score, and only 44 percent of the world is now rated as “free.” Factors used to calculate the score include a large swath of civil and political liberties, such as the freedom of expression, freedom of religion, migrant and refugee rights, executive term limits and whether the country has free and fair elections.
The United States also is in precarious territory. Its freedom score has declined by eight points over the past decade, according to the report. While the country is still definitively considered free, even “robust” as the report notes, it's beginning to fall behind other large democracies such as the U.K., Canada, France, Australia, Germany and Japan.
The president of Freedom House, Michael J. Abramowitz, noted that the weakening of the American democracy presented a threat to democratic systems around the world.
That shouldn’t happen. The U.S. must continue to hold a light to the world and champion the pursuit of freedom.
For the later decades of the 20th century, liberal democracy seemed to be on an inevitable march to disrupt and reconfigure governance systems around the world, upending communism and authoritarian dictatorships.
International institutions triumphed in global world order — the United Nations was still gleaming in its idealism and the European Union was a nascent and exciting prospect for the future of a continent scarred by the world wars. American strategic investments, alliances, as well as military and diplomatic relations abroad, were aligned with an insistence on democratization and the expansion of liberalism.
Today, it’s disappointing to see what looks like backward progress.34 comments on this story
But tides could be turning. The report indicates that declines, despite more of them, fell at a slower pace compared to the sharp rises of liberty in certain places. That means improvement is possible and trends can reverse.
The U.S. must continue to play a key role in shining the light of liberty — not through heavy-handed endeavors, but through correcting a national discourse prone to incivility and committing to unite over shared values rather than driving wedges to please a political base. America must not fall short of the ideals it was founded on.