In the intelligence field, analysts use indications and warning systems to help them predict when the unthinkable might happen. An indications and warning system is a collection of diverse information that can help alert us of common trends or distinct courses of action when viewed together.
Across the world, democracy is at risk. It feels like society is sliding backwards from democracy towards autocracy—and unfortunately, the United States is no exception.
The White House’s shrinking accessibility to the press; violence and threats against journalists; the ease with which a foreign adversary preyed on our deep political divisions and distrust of government during our election; and President Trump’s own efforts to delegitimize the media, other branches of government, and independent investigations: All of this has contributed to a sense that American democracy is battered and besieged.
How can we quantify what is happening to our democracy? As a first step to answering these questions, we’re introducing Stop the Slide. This project tracks more than 180 indicators of the overall health of our democracy; by looking at them both individually and together, we can understand the importance of changes over time and monitor trends. The donut graphs above show how many indicators are active, partially active, and inactive in each of our seven categories of indicators, and the graph below shows the “weighted authoritarian value” we calculate for each of the seven categories as a whole. For more on how Stop the Slide works, see the Methodology section below.
How bad is it?
Stop the Slide is the first practitioner-driven indications and warning system for American democracy in the age of President Donald Trump. The Truman experts who contributed to identifying and ranking these indicators of authoritarianism are members of the intelligence community, the military and foreign service, non-governmental organizations, and universities who specialize in combatting authoritarianism around the world.
In designing Stop the Slide, we identified seven important categories of rights and freedoms that safeguard American democracy against encroachment by authoritarianism:
- Freedom of the Press and Transparency;
- Freedom of Speech and Assembly;
- Free and Fair Elections;
- Freedom of Religion and Worship;
- the Criminal Justice System;
- Security Services;
- and Government Checks and Balances.
Within each category, we then detailed a collection of indicators that would point to a restriction of rights and freedoms. Each indicator has a severity level on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least severe and 5 being the most. In order to track activity, we use algorithms to continually search the global wire services and neutral, long-form reporting sources in order to ascertain which indicators become active when. Indicators are marked as active, partially active, or inactive every month. The “weighted authoritarian value” for each category of indicators—featured over time on the main page and each category’s own separate page—reflects how many indicators are active in a category, with each active indicator weighted by its level of severity.
Of course, Stop the Slide isn’t perfect. It is a work in progress, continuously being refined and tweaked. Our search algorithms are bound to miss details, and they are dependent on the accuracy and completeness of the stories they source from. And of course, there is an impossibly wide range of indicators that we could have chosen from; some may disagree on whether or not we made the right selections, or with our determinations on activity and severity.
Still, we're giving it our best shot. And even though it seems like we’re moving backwards now, it is far from too late for American democracy. The first step to safeguarding our rights and freedoms against authoritarian encroachment is a well-informed and alert citizenry who knows what signals to look for amongst the noise. That work—our collective work to Stop the Slide—begins here
Stop the Slide was created and is maintained by Truman Center for National Policy. Truman is a nationwide membership of diverse leaders inspired to serve in the aftermath of 9/11 and committed to shaping and advocating for tough, smart national security solutions. We are united in the belief that America is strongest when we stand with our allies to lead, support, and defend a growing global community of free people and just societies.