American Democracy
In Trouble

A recent study of democracies around the world has been getting a lot of attention this past week. That’s because America has been demoted.

In the latest Democracy Index ratings of the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, one of the world’s most admired and trusted democracies is no longer rated “a full democracy.” America has instead been designated a “flawed democracy,” now ranked 21st on the index. Norway, Iceland and Sweden are ranked highest, and Syria and North Korea are at the bottom.

Saudi Arabia ranks among the ten worst on the list, tying Uzbekistan for 159th place. (Noted by Forbes is that despite that dubious distinction for the Saudi monarchy, the U.S. has sold it billions of dollars of weapons in recent years.)

Criteria for the index include civil liberties, the electoral process and pluralism, functionality of government, and political participation.

The primary reason for America’s demotion is “erosion of public trust in political institutions.” The report describes a flawed democracy as having “weak governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation,” despite having free elections.

Case in point: a 2017 Gallup poll showed that just 6 percent of Americans trust the U.S. Congress, and just 13-19 percent trust the U.S. presidency. And a full three-quarters believe that elected policymakers put their own interests ahead of those of the country.

The Democracy Index has sounded an alarm. Democracy is in decline the world over. The world’s democracies, and most notably the U.S., no longer present the model for governance they once did to the 2.6 billion people now living under authoritarian regimes.

Zoe Licata and Camilla Warrender (Boston, Massachusetts)

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