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Security forces respond with tear gas after then-President Donald Trump's supporters breached the U.S. Capitol, storming the building as lawmakers were set to sign off on President-elect Joe Biden's electoral victory. (Photo: Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images)

U.S. and Its Allies Are Fueling Worldwide Erosion of Democracy, Analysis Shows

"We cannot rely on the U.S. or its allies to 'champion' democracy around the world," said global grassroots movement Progressive International.

Julia Conley

Recent internal attacks on democracy and human rights by the United States and many of its allies—which often portray themselves as exporters of such ideals—are driving an overall erosion of democracy worldwide, according to a new analysis.
The New York Times analyzed an annual report released earlier this year by V-Dem, a Swedish research institute that collects data on democracy and autocratic governments around the world, finding that the United States and several of the countries it's considered allies in recent decades have shifted substantially away from operating as democracies—with attacks on voting rights, judicial independence, and the rights of the media among the factors driving the erosion.

"Much of the world's backsliding is not imposed on democracies by foreign powers, but rather is a rot rising within the world's most powerful network of mostly democratic alliances."

The U.S. and its allies drove increases in "democracy scores," according to V-Dem's reporting, throughout the 1990s, accounting for 9% of democratic growth around the world. But in the past decade, the Times' analysis showed, 36% of all democratic "backsliding" has happened in the U.S. and U.S.-aligned countries, including Turkey, Hungary, and Israel.
"Much of the world's backsliding is not imposed on democracies by foreign powers, but rather is a rot rising within the world's most powerful network of mostly democratic alliances," wrote Max Fisher at the Times.
V-Dem's report, titled Autocratization Turns Viral, pointed to the arrests of Turkish journalists for their reporting on the coronavirus pandemic and the detention of "hundreds of citizens for discussing the issue on social media" as examples of democratic erosion that has intensified in the last year.
"The decay in freedom of the press, academia, civil society, and increasing spread of false information in Turkey predates 2010 but has continued since, with legal restrictions to further limit civil society activity and freedom of expression," the report notes. 
The group pointed to an assault on the judiciary and the press in Hungary as evidence of the deterioration of democracy, "dating back to as early as 2010 when [the] right-wing government led by Viktor Orbán and his Fidez party enacted several media laws that curtailed media freedom substantially."
The Times' analysis comes amid an intensifying assault on voting rights and elections by the Republican Party in the U.S.—and the failure of the Democratic Party, which controls the White House and both chambers of Congress, to eliminate the legislative filibuster to allow the passage of far-reaching voting rights legislation.
As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, state-level congressional maps drawn by Republican legislatures could give the party "a 13-2 advantage among representatives to the U.S. House," while the conservative takeover of the federal courts including the U.S. Supreme Court has put reproductive rights in peril.
V-Dem's report also pointed to the spread of disinformation that the U.S. government has "frequently engaged in" regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, with anti-science claims from the right—including former President Donald Trump—contributing to a stark partisan divide in recent Covid-19 deaths, as Common Dreams reported last week.
However, the Times emphasized, V-Dem's data shows that the trend away from U.S. democracy "accelerated during [Trump's] presidency but predated it."
"It would be too easy to say this can all be explained by Trump," Seva Gunitsky, a political scientist at University of Toronto, told the Times.
V-Dem's findings and the outlet's analysis left critics of American exceptionalism and U.S. foreign policy—including numerous wars which both Democrats and Republicans have claimed were aimed at "spreading democracy"—asking how the U.S. will continue to claim authority on democratic ideals.
"If the U.S. actually undermines democracy, how else shall we justify U.S. primacy?" tweeted Dr. Annelle Sheline of the Quincy Institute.
As the Times noted, the erosion of democracy in the U.S. has not gone unnoticed by the global community.
"Very few in any public surveyed think American democracy is a good example for other countries to follow," a recent Pew Research Center study found. On average, only 17% of people in surveyed countries called U.S. democracy worth emulating, while 23% said it had never offered a good example. American prosperity may no longer look so appealing either, because of growing problems, like inequality, as well as the rise of China as an alternate economic model. And awareness of the United States' domestic problems—mass shootings, polarization, racial injustice—has greatly affected perceptions.
To people worldwide, tweeted David Adler, general coordinator of the global grassroots movement Progressive International, it comes as no surprise that "we cannot rely on the U.S. or its allies to 'champion' democracy around the world."
"We need a new champion," said Progressive International, "owned and operated by the popular forces of the world."

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