Democracy: So There's Bad News

Democracy: So There's Bad News

There are now more democracies on earth than ever. Well, so much for the good news. While a new Pew study shows that 97 countries are currently democracies, up from just 37 in the mid-1970s, the bad news is that across the globe “democracy” is losing its luster.


Over the past twenty years, popular support for democracy has dwindled globally, especially in many of the Latin American and former Soviet countries that shook off dictatorships just a generation ago. Meanwhile, a third of Americans today say they prefer a strongman to a system of checks and balances, up from just 25% in the mid-1990s, according to the World Values Survey, a global poll. A majority of Indians polled agree.

At the same time, the quality of democracies is deteriorating. Freedom House, an outfit that rates governments’ protection of basic rights, press freedoms, and separation of powers, has registered a steady decline in democratic indicators for more than a decade now. These measures are subjective, but the avowedly illiberal cast of current Central European governments, Turkey’s authoritarian turn after last summer’s coup, or the popular embrace of extrajudicial killings by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte are stark recent examples of the trend. And a subtler specter of illiberalism arises every time the US president, for example, attacks the media or the judiciary.

To reverse this trend, defenders of democracy face three daunting challenges. First, deep structural problems of income inequality, social polarization, and corruption have all, in various combinations, eroded faith in the institutions of democratic government, boosting the appeal of strongmen or populist outsiders who promise to fight back, get things done and clean up graft. Second, social media seems to be offering more tools of control to authoritarian governments while exacerbating polarization in democratic societies. And lastly, for many, the spectacular rise of authoritarian China presents a fresh challenge to the idea that liberal democracy is the best route to national prosperity and power.

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

GZERO Media caught up with Japan's Permanent Representative to the UN Kimihiro Ishikane during the 2020 UN General Assembly. In an interview with Eurasia Group Vice Chairman Gerald Butts, Ishikane talked about pandemic response, and how it has impacted the broader picture of US-China relations. Regarding a global fissure potentially caused by the world's two biggest economies, Ishikane said: "China is not like the former Soviet Union. Our system is completely intertwined, and I don't think we can completely decouple our economy and neither is that desirable." He also discussed the legacy of Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest-serving prime minister, who stepped down recently due to health complications.

The world's two biggest economic powers threaten to create a "big rupture" in geopolitics, but "we are not there yet," UN Secretary-General António Guterres tells Ian Bremmer. In an interview for GZERO World, the leader of the world's best-known multilateral organization discusses the risks involved as the US and China grow further apart on key issues.

Watch the episode: UN Secretary-General António Guterres: Why we still need the United Nations

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