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Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, democracy advocates were already sounding alarms about a global “democratic recession.” In maps charting freedom in the world, the various shades of authoritarianism had been spreading ominously. Freedom House has recorded an annual decline in global freedom for 15 years in a row, and less than 20 percent of the global population now lives in a country classified as “free.”

The pandemic brought a double blow to democracy, distracting attention from these troubling trends while further weakening democratic institutions. Strongmen and elected leaders alike clothed antidemocratic actions as public health measures, curtailing protests supposedly to encourage social distancing, and limiting speech supposedly to control disinformation. Under the last administration, the United States was inconsistent in its defense of democracy.

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