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We dubbed 2018 the "year of the strongman." Nominations now open for 2019's catchy geopolitical nickname. Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Two years of democratic erosion around the world came to an end in 2018, according to the annual index from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). However, gains in countries like Costa Rica were canceled out by declines in places like Nicaragua, and globally we ended 2018 right about where we started it.

The big picture: Just 4.5% of the world's population lives in countries EIU considers "full democracies." Another 43.2% live in "flawed democracies." The remaining 52.3% live in "hybrid" (think Turkey) or "authoritarian" regimes.

  • The most robust democracies are in Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada and Ireland. The U.S. ranks #25, falling from #21 in 2017.
  • While Europe is home to the world's strongest democracies, it's also where "the democratic malaise of the past decade has been felt most keenly."
  • Gold stars: Armenia, Macedonia, Ecuador, Haiti and Tunisia all strengthened their democracies in 2018, per the index. Mauritius, a small island nation, is Africa's only full democracy.

Takeaways:

  • “Identity politics” and “strongman leaders” are on the rise globally and undermining “the institutions of representative democracy.”
  • Liberalization is not risk-free. Ethiopia's democratic opening has been accompanied by "an increase in violence."
  • "Even in the Middle East and North Africa, where the population is increasingly disillusioned with electoral politics ... there has been a noticeable increase over the past year in public willingness to engage in public protest."

The bottom line: Political participation is on the rise, which indicates voters are "not disengaged from democracy. They are clearly disillusioned with formal political institutions but have been spurred into action," per the report.

Go deeper: Download the report.

Go deeper

AP: Justice Dept. rescinds "zero tolerance" policy

A young girl waves to onlookers through the fence at the US-Mexico border wall at Friendship Park in San Ysidro, California in Nov. 2018. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden's acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued a memo on Tuesday to revoke the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which separated thousands of migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, AP first reported.

Driving the news: A recent report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz emphasized the internal chaos at the agency over the implementation of the policy, which resulted in 545 parents separated from their children as of October 2020.

Biden picks up his pen to change the tone on racial equity

Vice President Harris looks on as President Biden signs executives orders related to his racial equity agenda. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden is making a down payment on racial equity in a series of executive orders dealing with everything from private prisons to housing discrimination, treatment of Asian Americans and relations with indigenous tribes.

The big picture: Police reform and voting rights legislation will take time to pass in Congress. But with the stroke of his pen, one week into the job Biden is taking steps within his power as he seeks to change the tone on racial justice from former President Trump.

Most Senate Republicans join Rand Paul effort to dismiss Trump's 2nd impeachment trial

Photo: Joshua Roberts-Pool/Getty Images

Forty-five Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, supported an effort to dismiss former President Trump's second impeachment trial.

Why it matters: The vote serves as a precursor to how senators will approach next month's impeachment trial, making it highly unlikely the Senate will vote to convict. The House impeached Trump for a second time for "incitement of insurrection" following events from Jan 6. when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.