Report shows need to ‘Make America A Democracy Again’
Trump’s authoritarianism produces copycats worldwide. | Stephen B. Morton/AP

STOCKHOLM—The researchers didn’t use those exact words, but in its latest annual report on the state of democracy worldwide, a Stockholm-based international think tank might just as well have said that it’s time to “Make America A Democracy Again.”

That’s because the International Institute for Democracy Assistance said Donald Trump and his impact was the major reason it put the U.S., for the first time ever, on its list of “backsliding democracies.”

And The Global State of Democracy 2021 defines backsliding democracies as nations with “severe and deliberate democratic erosion.” The words speak for themselves.

Which is where the Trumpite invasion and insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, in a coup try against the victory of Democratic nominee Joe Biden over his foe, GOP incumbent Trump, rears its ugly head. The insurrection and Trump’s prior record led the institute to attach that backsliding label to the U.S.

“Electoral integrity is increasingly being questioned, often without evidence, even in established democracies,” it says. “Disputes about electoral outcomes are on the rise. A historic turning point came in 2020–2021 when former President Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States.

“Baseless allegations of electoral fraud and related disinformation undermined fundamental trust in the electoral process, which culminated in the storming of the U.S. Capitol building in January 2021,” it adds.

The report says nothing about the GOP following Trump’s line like lemmings headed over a cliff. That’s because the report’s numerical evaluations, which began in 1975, run through 2020 in this report. It does, however, cite notable events affecting democracy so far this year—such as the insurrection.

Trump’s authoritarianism produces copycats worldwide

The report examined the state of democracies, hybrid governments—part-democratic and part-authoritarian—and dictatorships worldwide, and found democracy in retreat around the globe in 2020.

It also declares Trump’s authoritarian anti-democratic tilt produced copycat conduct by other would-be autocrats in other democracies, notably Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both, like Trump, are extreme right-wingers and ethnocentric nationalists, to boot.

In another example, it said Myanmar’s (Burma’s) generals used similar lies about electoral fraud to oust Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s first democratically elected prime minister.

The report discloses that due to worldwide democracy problems, both illustrated and worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, Trump wasn’t the sole leader the institute’s secretary-general, Kevin Casas-Zamora, and his organization’s report panned. Trump was just the most prominent.

“Democracy is at risk. Its survival is endangered by a perfect storm of threats, both from within and from a rising tide of authoritarianism,” Casas-Zamora’s introduction says.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated these threats through the imposition of states of emergency, the spread of disinformation, and crackdowns on independent media and freedom of expression.

More countries undergoing democratic backsliding

“More countries than ever are suffering from ‘democratic erosion’—decline in democratic quality—including in established democracies. The number of countries undergoing ‘democratic backsliding’… has never been as high as in the last decade, and includes regional geopolitical and economic powers” such as those top three.

“More than a quarter of the world’s population now live in democratically backsliding countries. Together with those living in outright non-democratic regimes, they make up more than two-thirds of the world’s population,” the introduction concluded.

Coincidentally, the think-tank released its worldwide report on Nov. 23, the same day the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Trumpite U.S. Capitol insurrection issued more subpoenas to its instigators, advocates, and Trumpite followers who abetted it.

One subpoena went to former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who was cooperating with the panel but apparently isn’t doing so now. Others went to leaders of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, two of the most prominent and numerous invading white nationalist groups. Some 34 Proud Boys and 18 Oath Keepers, including both groups’ head men, have been indicted for their roles in the insurrection.

The panel also subpoenaed white nationalist agitator and sometime radio screamer Alex Jones–recently convicted of libel against the parents and school kids killed in the Newtown, Conn., massacre—and Roger Stone, the influential and corrupt GOP lobbyist who became Trump’s sometime campaign manager. Stone also was a key Trump contact with Russian-sponsored disinformation producers.

But Stone was more than that, and more recently, the committee said. It explained, “Stone reportedly used members of the Oath Keepers as personal security guards, at least one of whom has been indicted for his involvement in the attack on the Capitol. And Mr. Stone has made remarks that he was planning to ‘lead a march to the Capitol’ from the Ellipse rally.”

Trump ordered the invaders to head from there to the Capitol that day. He promised to personally lead them but retreated to the White House to gleefully watch them on TV before issuing a belated and grudging “go home” request.

“We believe the individuals and organizations we subpoenaed today have relevant information about how violence erupted at the Capitol and preparation leading up to this violent attack,” Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said. “The Select Committee is moving swiftly to uncover the facts of what happened that day and we expect every witness to comply with the law and cooperate so we can get answers to the American people.”

Ironically, the committee’s subpoenas reinforced one strong point the U.S. still has, despite Trump, according to the report: The ability, however limited, of other branches of government to check and control a leader. But to give you an idea of how other countries fared, the think tank said the similar checking ability in the Canadian Parliament is waning.

A second strong point, worldwide, was that the pandemic forced governments, of whatever stripe, to work concertedly together to combat the modern-day plague. As of Nov. 24, the coronavirus has killed 5,167 million people around the globe, equal to the population of Chicago and Houston, combined. Of those, 773,771 have died in the U.S. That’s 20,000 more people than inhabit Seattle.

One timeline also shows Trump-caused decline

And another strong point showed up in timelines, for each country, provided in the report’s analytical tables, inserted on the institute’s website. The tables rate each nation’s democratic tendencies based on 29 factors, on a zero-to-one scale, where zero is the worst and one means completely democratic.

But even there, the Trump effect appeared, though the report didn’t pin the changes on him by name.

The scale for U.S. representative government was high for years. But no sooner did Trump run, in 2016, than the perception of it dropped. The score for honest elections, and perception of them, remained high.

“Representative government” in the U.S. in 1975, the year of the first report—coincidentally, the first year after Watergate forced GOP President Richard Nixon to resign—was 0.74. It rose to 0.92 in 2015 but fell to 0.84 in 2016. That’s when Trump spouted lies in his first campaign and even hinted he wouldn’t accept the results, as well as took advantage of Russian disinformation. It’s stayed at 0.84.

And the report says actual honesty in U.S. elections was relatively high in 1975 (0.78) and last year (0.79). Ditto for citizen confidence in elections, which stayed virtually the same over the entire era. Allowing for statistical error, it ranged from 0.75-0.83 in 2020. Another factor, “inclusive suffrage,” rose from 0.89 in 1975 to 0.93 last year. What it will be in next year’s report may be another story entirely, as this report’s text makes clear.

By contrast, world confidence in honest elections ranged from 0.54-0.62 last year, little changed from 2016—but way above 1975 (0.32-0.40).

Still, the report had sharp words for the danger to democracy, with and without Trump. Among them:

  • “Democratically elected governments, including established democracies, are increasingly adopting authoritarian tactics. This democratic backsliding has often enjoyed significant popular support.” The report added, “some of the most-worrying examples” were the three big democracies, plus Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia. Extreme right-wing parties run Hungary and Poland and a center-right party leads a multi-party coalition in Slovenia.
  • “Authoritarianism is deepening in non-democratic regimes (hybrid and authoritarian regimes). The year 2020 was the worst on record, in terms of the number of countries affected by deepening autocratization. The pandemic has thus had a particularly damaging effect on non-democratic countries, further closing their already reduced civic space.”
  • In an understatement, the report said the pandemic focused attention on the yawning political repression which people of color now must combat again around the globe. Here, Trump’s lies are fueling repression that began after the Supreme Court gutted key Voting Rights sections years before and after Trump took over, though the report didn’t cite the court.

“Over the past two pandemic years, different groups’ varying levels of enjoyment of civil and political liberties have also become apparent,” it said. “In many of these cases, these inequalities are long-standing. The context of the pandemic, however, has refocused attention on them. In the United States, for example, research indicates some states’ voter registration and voting laws, either recently approved or currently under discussion, end up disproportionately affecting minorities in a negative way.”

Recommendations push more democracy, may wind up in ‘red state’ trash cans

The report finished with recommendations on how to preserve democracy worldwide.

“Government institutions, political parties, electoral machinery, and media should reform democratic institutions, processes, relationships and behaviors” to cope better “with the challenges of the 21st century,” one says.

“They should update practices in established democracies, build democratic capacity in new democracies, and protect electoral integrity, fundamental freedoms and rights, and the checks and balances essential to thriving and resilient democratic systems. They should also prioritize (re)building the mutual trust between citizens and their representatives that characterizes the strongest democracies.”

And in recommendations that probably will wind up in “red state” trash cans, the report said governments should “redesign political institutions and processes in ways that incentivize democratic actors and reward processes that are more inclusive, citizen-centered, accountable and responsive in decision-making and service delivery.”

Election processes, the report notes, must be created in an “open, consultative and transparent way.” That covers changing election calendars and “conduct or cadence of elections” such as party primaries and locations and availability of voting places. The report did not specifically mention redistricting and gerrymandering. That often occurs behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms.

“Political parties, legislatures, and civil society should reconsider the role, purpose, and composition of the party system in the 21st century. In particular, parties should consider the demands citizens have been making throughout the recent wave of protest movements and assess how they can integrate those concerns into their plans and proposals going forward,” it adds in a slam against party elites.

The entire report, and its research tables, factor by factor stretching back to 1975 for each country on the globe, is on the institute’s website: https://www.idea.int/gsod/global-report


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

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