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Freedom U.S. vs Portugal
Perhaps it is because I listened to President Biden’s press conference on Thursday that I began to think about freedom versus autocracy. I’m not sure. But I started wondering, which country is “more free”.
I thought about comparing the Portuguese constitution and US constitutions but quickly discarded that idea. Perhaps it is my Calvinist tendencies but I decided how one lives and demonstrates their beliefs is more important than simply what is written or what one says they believe. This led me to Freedom House, an organization founded in 1941 to fight fascism. Over the years they have supported the Marshall Plan, worked with civil rights leaders, and fought against McCarthyism. In 1973 they launched a new initiative, publishing an annual report called Freedom in the World which ranks countries on its index … it has been called the “Michelin Guide to democracy’s development”.
Democracy Under Siege
Their report for 2021 is subtitled Democracy Under Siege and for good reason. While we were consumed by a pandemic that killed millions and created economic insecurity for many more, authoritarian forces have gone unchecked:
These withering blows marked the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The countries experiencing deterioration outnumbered those with improvements by the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006. The long democratic recession is deepening.
I was reminded of President Biden’s recollections of his conversations with President Xi when I read the report:
The enemies of freedom have pushed the false narrative that democracy is in decline because it is incapable of addressing people’s needs. In fact, democracy is in decline because its most prominent exemplars are not doing enough to protect it.
The U.S. vs Portugal
With a score of 83 out of 100, the U.S. is considered free. But this is a decline of 3 points since last year’s report and seemed rather low to me. What shocked me more is that it is an 11 point decline since 2010. As I read the 2021 report for the U.S., it is clear that Freedom House was troubled by many actions of the prior administration. However, the prior administration did not affect many scores related to political rights where the U.S. scored 32 out of 40. The report gave less than perfect scores because of the electoral college, gerrymandering, the expense, and the length of campaigns affecting political financing, etc. Meanwhile, the U.S. civil rights score was 51 out of 60.
So how does this compare to Portugal? As I write this the narrative of the report for Portugal has not been published. However, its 2021 score of 96 out of 100 is unchanged from 2020; and its 39/40 for political rights and 57/60 for civil rights is also unchanged … so I suspect the narrative is mostly unchanged.
It should also be noted that Portugal ranks #13 in the world, while the U.S. comes in at #59. Of course, you have every right to discard the Freedom House report or disagree with their methodology. If so, you might want to look into the Human Freedom Index put out by the Cato Institute or the World Press Freedom Index put out by Reporters Without Borders.
Please understand, this is not my attempt to bash America. I remain an American. I speak to Portuguese every day that view the U.S. as a land of opportunity. I realize for those fleeing Honduras and Guatemala, the U.S. remains “that shining city on the hill.” But I am reminded that this Winthrop reference which we often remember having been said by President Reagan was first spoken by President Kennedy:
“We must always consider”, he (Winthrop) said, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill — the eyes of all people are upon us”.