In the World balance of tyranny versus democracy, democracy has been in decline every year since 2006. Freedom House publishes an annual report called “Freedom in the World”, and the title of the 2021 Report is “Democracy under Siege”. Nearly 75% of the World’s population lived in a country where “freedom” suffered from deterioration in 2020.
Tyrannical leaders used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to restrict freedoms, justify the use of force to crush their opponents, and consolidate their hold on power. The lack of international condemnation, or action, against these encroachments has only encouraged those leaders. In the tyranny versus democracy stakes, tyranny is winning.
The biggest traditional defender of freedoms, the United States, has been largely AWOL in this process. Worse, the now former-President of the United States actively encouraged dictators by making friends with them: Russia, China and North Korea, to name just three. One might interpret these attempted friendships as a solid indication of his jealousy that they were in their positions for life.
Be that as it may, the absence of the United States on the world democratic stage has been critical to the erosion of democracy. One can only hope that the new U.S. Administration will reverse Trump’s isolationist and regressive policies. However, the damage he did is huge, and will take years to repair.
The Freedom House Report notes that, not only have dictatorial regimes taken advantage of the U.S. absence, but they have used the opportunity to ridicule the cause of democracy as an effective form of government. Russia and China, in particular, have used every means at their disposals to promote their forms of government in vulnerable countries worldwide. In all cases, democracy has suffered and freedoms have been curtailed.
The worst, and most troubling case, is India. Once the beacon of democracy in Asia, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has continued, and increased, its crackdown on critics and opponents throughout 2020. Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice, and a counter-force to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself towards authoritarianism.
Other examples of countries that had previously seemed poised for democratic gains, but have fallen back into demagoguery, are Algeria, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Belarus, and most tragically, Hong Kong.
One statistic in the Freedom House Report was particularly poignant for me, as a resident of the United States. Over the past ten years, the United States aggregate Freedom-in-the-World score has dropped by 11 points from 94 in 2010 to 83 in 2020. That puts the U.S. among the 25 countries in the world to have suffered the largest declines during that period: The Trump administration merely accelerated that process, albeit substantially. The invasion of the U.S. Capital was the culmination of this downward trend. China and Russia must have been incredulous at their luck that the U.S. could now be portrayed as incompetent, and in democratic decline. Trump could not have given them a better gift in the war of tyranny versus democracy.
Amid all this doom and gloom, the Freedom House Report concludes with the following statement: “Democracy today is beleaguered but not defeated. Its enduring popularity in a more hostile world, and its perseverance after a devastating year, are signals of a resilience that bodes well for the future of freedom.”
With the United States now re-engaging, there is hope that the “bad guys” will not always win in the end. I hope so.