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The US has regressed from a 'full' to a 'flawed' democracy

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
US President Donald Trump announces a deal to end the partial government shutdown at the White House in Washington, Jan 25, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index revealed today that the United States has fallen out of the top 20 countries for the first time since 2011.

The US in 2018 achieved a score of 71, putting it in 22nd place on the index. The Berlin-based NGO noted that the US’s score “comes at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power.” 

“With a score of 71 the US has dropped four points from last year, and that’s a red flag.” Casey Kelso, advocacy director at Transparency International told Yahoo Finance UK. “Full democracies score an average of 75 which means the United States is no longer a ‘full,’ it’s a ‘flawed’ democracy.”

Transparency International refers to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index definition of what constitutes a “full” democracy.

“While Trump is a symptom, not a cause, he is showing that there are systematic problems with undue influence and a lack of transparency regarding money and politics,” Kelso said.

“Major conflicts of interests at the highest level have led to this drop in the perception of the US as a place to do business and that should be a concern to everyone — corruption doesn’t just undermine democratic institutions but those weak institutions then don’t have the checks and balances to control corruption.”

“Trump is a symptom of a larger malaise that saw cabinet members leaving one after because they had been accused of misappropriation or conflicts of interest,” Kelso said. The president’s “brazen attacks” on the press and his ongoing attempts to derail the Mueller investigation have also stoked perception of the US as a democracy under pressure, according to the advocacy director.

For example, Trump has continually lashed out at left-leaning news network CNN on social media platform Twitter and in press conferences as well as publishing bloodied and violent memes. In November, Trump and his aides were accused of violating the US constitution’s guarantee of freedom of the press after his administration banned CNN’s Jim Acosta from the White House.

2018 also marked a particularly deadly year for journalists at US media outlets. US resident and Saudi columnist for the Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. Earlier that year there was also a mass shooting in the newsroom of The Capital, a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland. 

Transparency International’s annual index uses a cross-section of expert surveys from sources such as the World Bank governance indicators to compile its ranking of 180 countries and territories. It’s based on how the business community perceives the public sector, in terms of which countries are a safe bet for investment based on the health and strength of their public institutions. The scores run from zero, meaning extremely corrupt, to 100, indicating very clean.

“With many democratic institutions under threat across the globe — often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies — we need to do more to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights,” said Patricia Moreira, Managing Director of Transparency International. 

READ MORE: Press freedom for UK and US significantly worse than other rich countries