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Democracy in Retreat

February 5, 2019

Michael Abramowitz, President of Freedom House
Karen DeYoung, Associate Editor and Senior National Security Correspondent for The Washington Post
Yascha Mounk, Senior Fellow, SNF Agora Institute and Associate Professor of the Practice, Johns Hopkins SAIS
Moderated by Elise Labott, former CNN Global Affairs Correspondent

The school hosted a discussion on the latest findings from Freedom House’s flagship annual report, Freedom in the World, assessing the condition of political rights and civil liberties around the world.

Michael Abramowitz began by providing a general overview of the findings in the report. He acknowledges that while fifty countries had improved its state of democracy and human freedom within 2018, this number was less than what was seen in the previous year. While countries like Armenia, Malaysia, Ethiopia and Angola have been advancing democratically over the years, Hungary has been sliding down the scale from “free” to “partly free” he noted. Nicaragua was reported to be experiencing the biggest decline of the 195 countries.

Karen DeYoung provided context for the report by discussing what the findings mean for the U.S. She explained that determining the level of threat to the U.S. from countries like Venezuela at the moment would be challenging with its recent change in leadership.

As a political scientist, Yascha Mounk mentioned that it is easy to create assumptions and expectations of the future of the world by assessing the reports, then probed the question of whether democratic values would continue to be instilled in the most affluent countries – a nod to the current situation in Hungary.

Elise Labott mentioned that the challenges to American democracy was testing the stability to its constitution. Abramowitz reassured the audience that American institutions are generally resilient but that they must be cautious and vigilant in the years ahead. DeYoung weighed in by speaking about degradation of political dialogue, which has enabled Americans to freely criticize the current administration, something they would not have done merely years ago. This degradation of tone and a politically polarized atmosphere will be challenges to the U.S.  

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