A raging pandemic, an absent America and an emboldened China have exacerbated an ongoing global democratic recession. That is the message of “Freedom in the World 2021,” Freedom House’s latest status report on the fortunes of democracy. During 2020, democracy retreated for the 15th consecutive year, deteriorating in 73 countries and improving in only 28—a record margin according to Freedom House, which has been tracking these trends for more than 40 years. Reversing this decline will require established democracies to play both defense and offense, bolstering democracy where it is under siege and challenging the anti-democratic message of the world’s authoritarian powers.

Every year, Freedom House classifies nations into three categories—“free,” “partly free” and “not free”—based on the quality of their civil and political liberties. In 2020, the number of “not free” countries (54) was the…

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