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America plummets on global corruption index due to erosion of public institutions and ethical norms

An new analysis released on January 29 from Transparency International “reveals the United States as a key country to watch in a global pattern of stagnating anti-corruption efforts and a worldwide crisis of democracy,” according to the group, with the U.S. rank on a global index plummeting by four points in just the past year under President Donald Trump.

The United States earned a score of 71 out of 100 on the watchdog’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), knocking it out of the top 20 countries for the first time since 2011.

Zoe Reiter, Transparency International’s acting representative to the U.S., said in a statement that “a four-point drop in the CPI score is a red flag and comes at a time when the U.S. is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances, as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power.”

“This is a red flag because it’s really part of a pattern that we’ve seen since the 2008 global financial crisis of a loss of trust in our public institutions,” Reiter told Reuters. “People don’t see us as having adequate mechanisms in place to fight corruption and ensure the accountability of our elected officials.”

Transparency International’s latest findings align with a public opinion survey the group conducted two years ago, which revealed that nearly six in ten Americans believed there was an increase in corruption from 2016 to 2017, when Trump entered the White House.

“Concerns around the Trump administration are quite serious, but this has been stewing for several years,” Reiter emphasized. “Conflict of interest wasn’t a new problem, but it was illuminated in its glory when you have someone who is basically breaking norms.”

In other words, she said, “Trump is a symptom not a cause.” However, the CPI also showed that the United States is far from alone in its failures to fight corruption. Of the 180 countries and territories analyzed, only 20 have made significant improvements since 2012. The watchdog also designated Brazil as a “country to watch” following the election of Jair Bolsonaro — a racist, sexist, homophobe — as president.

Overall, “the highest scoring region is Western Europe and the European Union, with an average score of 66, while the lowest scoring regions are Sub-Saharan Africa (average score 32) and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (average score 35),” a statement noted. Denmark and New Zealand secured the top spots, with respective scores of 88 and 87.

“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,” concluded Patricia Moreira, Transparency International’s managing director.

The report comes as the U.S. House of Representatives is considering the For the People Act (H.R.1), sweeping anti-corruption legislation that would protect voting rights, promote the public financing of elections, rein in the influence of corporate dark money, and strengthen ethics rules.

The U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary held its first hearing on the bill Tuesday morning. Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in her testimony that H.R.1 “is a bold, comprehensive reform package that offers solutions to a broken democracy.”

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