The annual “Freedom in the World” report was just released, and Trump will be furious with his grades

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Here is something else President Donald Trump will not want to read – but the rest of us should pay attention to and find frightening.

Freedom House’s prestigious Freedom In The World report, which since 1941 has provided an annual measure of the degree of policial freedom and civil liberties in each country, was released today and delivers disturbing evidence that a 12-year trend away from freedom and toward authoritarian rule has accelerated – especially in the U.S. 

“Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017,” declares the report by the Washington, D.C. based NGO (non governmental organization), “as its basic tenets – including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law – came under attack around the world”

While the report is largely funded by the U.S. government, it did not spare the U.S. as being part of a trend that saw 71 countries “suffer net declines in political rights and liberties,” while only 35 showed gains.

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“The United States, retreated from its traditional role as both champion and an exemplar of democracy,” declares the report first stated by Eleanor Roosevelt and others at the outset of World War II, “amid an accelerating decline in American political rights and civil liberties.”

While the fact that 113 countries have seen a net decline in democracy since 2006 continues, and only 62 have seen any improvements, it is the sharp shift in the role of the U.S. under Trump that pops up as the driving factor in making the world less free and more dangerous. 

“The potent challenge from authoritarian regimes made the United States’ abdication of its traditional role all the more important,” warns the report. 

The authors blame two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as contributing to the erosion of the American driven moral imperative to see people free to make their own way and criticize the Obama administration for falling short in its actions even as it defended democratic ideals in its foreign policy statements.

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However, all of that is of only marginal importance compared to the Trump impact.

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“In 2017,” says the report, “the Trump administration made explicit – in both words and actions – its intention to cast off principles that have guided U.S. policy and formed the basis for American leadership over the past seven decades.”

Trump’s slogan, “America First,” was originally used by “isolationists seeking to block U.S. involvement in the war against fascism,” notes the report, attacking the very idea of collective global security and the mutual benefits of free trade.

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“The administration’s hostility and skepticism toward binding international agreements on the environment, arms control, and other topics confirmed that a reorientation was taking shape,” states the report.

“Even when he chose to acknowledge America’s treaty alliances with fellow democracies,” continues the report, “the president spoke of cultural or civilizational ties rather than shared recognition of universal rights; his trips abroad rarely featured any mention of the word ‘democracy.'”

“Indeed,” notes the report ominously, “the American leader expressed feelings of admiration and even personal friendship for some of the world’s most loathsome strongmen and dictators.”

“This marks a sharp break from other U.S. presidents in the postwar period,” adds the report, “who cooperated with certain authoritarian regimes for strategic reasons but never wavered from a commitment to democracy as 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 come to emulate their authoritarian approach.”

The message the U.S. is sending under Trump to the world is a direct reflection of what the president is doing at home.

“The past year brought further, faster erosion of America’s own democratic standards than at any other time in memory,” declares the report, “damaging its international credibility as a champion of good governance and human rights.”

While the past decade has seen what the report calls “setbacks” to the way elections are conducted and criminal justice is administered, says the report, “in 2017 its core institutions were attacked by an administration that rejects established norms or ethical conduct across many fields of activity.”

That starts with Trump’s unprecedented mixing of his business interests with his government position, and his appointment of family members to high-level jobs in a fashion more reminiscent of how banana republics operate under dictators than the U.S. norm. 

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Trump, adds the report, “apponted famiily members to his senor staff, filled other high positions with lobbyists and representatives of special interests, and refused to abide by disclousre and transparency practices observed by his predecessors.”

Linked directly to his assault on democratic principles and traditional ethics is Trump’s unprecedented attacks on the media and his questioning of freedom of the press.

“The president has also lambasted and threatened the media – including sharp jabs at individual journalists – for challenging his routinely false statements, spoken disdainfully of judges who blocked his decisions, and attacked the professional staff of law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” states the report.

Trump’s actions sent a signal of contempt for Muslims and Latin American immigrants, notes the report, “and singles out some African Americans for vitriolic criticism.”

His attack on the norms of democracy also included his executive order banning travel to the U.S. from Muslim-majority countries; and his pardon for an Arizona sheriff,  “convicted of ignoring federal court orders to half racially discriminatory policies.”

Trump’s actions show his frustration with the American democracies system of checks and balances – including an independent judiciary, a co-equal legislative branch, a free press and an active civil society.

“The administration’s statements and actions could ultimately leave them weakened,” warns the report, “with serious consequences for the health of U.S. democracy and America’s role in the world.”

There is much more to the frank, clear-eyed, unwavering truth that this important annual report delivers, including a breakdown by country of the trends – especially the movement toward authoritarian rule.

There is an unbridled criticism of the role of China and Russia, now with greater economic muscle than in many years, trying to export their version of a repressive, controlling authoritarian government, which where successful “poses economic and security risks,” states the report.

“When more counties are free, all countries – including the United States – are safer and more prosperous,” says the report. “When more countries are autocratic and repressive, treaties and alliances crumble, nations and entire regions become unstable, and violent extremists have greater room to operate.”

What is even more “worrisome for the future,” adds the report, is that “young people, who have little memory of the long struggles against fascism and communism, may be losing faith and interest in the democratic project,” which is “contributing to a dangerous apathy.”

For those who have lived long enough and paid enough attention to understand how great the mounting danger is from Trumpism and the rise of authoritarian governments, it is frightening to think how naive we were and how quickly everything changed for the worse.

“A quarter-century ago,” notes the report, “at the end of the Cold War, it appeared that totalitarianism had at last been vanquished and liberal democracy had won the great ideological battle of the 20th century.”

“Today,” concludes the report, “it is democracy that finds itself battered and weakened.”

It is important that all those who value freedom, who understand the role of democratic institutions and a free press, pay attention to this report, right now, because as a U.S. government-funded project, even this report could be in danger of extinction.

Trump is not going to like having a mirror held up to his actions that so clearly shows how out of the norm he and his administration are from the principles that have guided the US. to its current success and role in the world, and he has shown that he may well try to kill it before it can bite his lying, deceptive, destructive regime for another year.

Be afraid, be very afraid, and read this report – while you still can.

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Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.

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