The short answer: It’s sick, and getting worse fast.
And in the United States, once hailed as the global standard-bearer of democracy, is slipping fast into its opposite, autocracy – rule by a strong man [and yes, the gendered pronoun is the norm].
Such are two of the global findings from Autocratization Surges – Resistance Grows, DEMOCRACY REPORT 2020, the latest annual report card on democracies from he V-Dem Institute [Varieties of Democracy]. an independent research institute founded by Professor Staffan I. Lindberg in 2014 and based at the Department of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
The findings are scores derived from the Liberal Democracy Index [LDI], which combines measures of the quality of elections, suffrage, freedom of expression and the media, freedom of association and civil society, checks on the executive, and the rule of law, rated on a scale from zero [autocracy] to one [full liberal democracy].
[Click on any of the following charts to enlarge.]
From the report:
Autocratization captures any substantial and significant decline on V-Dem’s Liberal Democracy Index (LDI), which may start in democracies (democratic regression) or autocracies (autocratic regression). Democratization is the opposite process and means any substantial and significant improvement on the LDI scale either in autocracies (liberalization) or democracies (democratic deepening). To distinguish different types of regimes, we use the Regimes of the World (RoW) typology, classifying countries as democratic if they not only hold free and fair multiparty elections, but also guarantee freedom of speech and expression. Electoral autocracies fail to reach such standards while closed autocracies do not even hold multiparty elections for the chief executive. We further distinguish between liberal democracies, which uphold the rule of law and have constraints on the executive, and electoral democracies, which do not.5We measure autocratization and democratization as a substantial and significant change on the LDI over ten years. For each year, we take the difference of the score at time t and time t–10, capturing both sudden and gradual changes. Significant means that the confidence intervals do not overlap (see Methods section towards the end of this report). We consider a change substantial if the absolute value of the change on the LDI is greater than 0.05
This chart shows the shocking global movement toward autocracy. The graph on the left charts trends in global governments from 1972 to 2019, while the graph on the right charts numbers of people living on regimes either moving toward democracy or toward autocracy:
The United States is singled out for particular notice in the section on the state of governments in North America:
Only one country in this region has registered a substantial decline in liberal democracy – the United States of America. It has suffered a fall of 15% from 0.86 in 2008 when President Obama was elected to 0.70 in 2019 after three years of rule by President Trump. The 330 million people living in the USA represent 40% of the total population in Western Europe and North America. Naturally, its influence on the region and the world is probably much greater than the population size suggests with the USA’s enormous global reach in trade, military and strategic power, investment and development aid, as well as “soft” power. The possible ripple effects of the USA’s decline are huge.
A new briefing paper from V-Dem issued today pays particular attention to the astounding shifts in the Republican Party, the singular force dragging the nation down the slippery slope to autocracy.
Two charts are especially notable:
Figure 1 shows the movement of the Republican and Democratic parties in this millennium on two dimensions: Illiberal rhetoric and left-right positioning on economic policy. The Republican party has not changed left-right placement but moved strongly in an illiberal direction. In this sense it is now more similar to autocratic ruling parties such as the Turkish AKP, and Fidesz in Hungary than to typical center-right governing parties in democracies such as the Conservatives in the UK or CDU in Germany:
Figure 2 illustrates where the Republican Party (orange dots) and the Democratic Party (blue squares) placed on several indicators before the 2018 election relative to all other ruling parties in democracies (above the line) and opposition parties in democracies (below the horizontal lines) in this millennium. The black vertical line gives the median or typical value. The data shows that the Republican Party in 2018 was far more illiberal than almost all other governing parties in democracies. Only very few governing parties in democracies in this millennium (15%) were considered more illiberal than the Republican Party in the US. Conversely, the Democratic Party was rated slightly less illiberal than the typical party in democracies. The Republican party scores much higher than almost all parties in democracies on almost all of these indicators.
Back during World War II, American GIs had their own scale for rating things.
SNAFU: Situation Normal, All Fucked Up
TARFU: Things Are Really Fucked UP, and
FUBAR: Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition
We’re definitely in FUBAR territory.