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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios 

The news that China’s constitution will be amended to permit Xi Jinping to serve additional terms as president is only the most recent instance of a disturbing trend: Not just democracy but the rule of law and respect for civil society and individual liberty are in decline around the world. One reason is that the United States is failing to set an example that many wish to emulate.

The U.S. has removed the promotion of democracy and human rights from its foreign policy agenda. Its silence on these issues gives repressive regimes a free pass to crack down. But our increasingly divisive domestic politics are also part of the problem.

  • The left is put off by racism, hostility to immigrants and seeming indifference to gun violence, while the right delegitimizes the Mueller investigation, embraces America First and champions tax cuts to the exclusion of much else.
  • Attacks by the president on everyone from judges to journalists undermine trust in essential institutions.
  • The lack of civics education in our schools and the echo chambers of cable news and social media exact a steep toll.

Economic, social and physical insecurity have driven the global trend toward illiberalism. Understandably, those forces place greater emphasis on a government’s ability to deliver tangible goods than on its fealty to intangible ideals such as individual freedoms and human rights. We are seeing this in countries as diverse as Russia, China, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Egypt and the Philippines.

A few exceptions stand out, offering hope that the anti-democratic trend may be cyclical rather than permanent. Argentina is experiencing a democratic revival following years of state populism that bankrupted the country. Western Europe, led by France’s President Macron and his promise of reform, has for now beaten back the populist and nationalist challenge. Iran has seen civil society endure in the face of decades of repression, corruption and expensive foreign forays.

What's next: The stakes are high. A world in which true democracies are rare will be one of not just reduced individual freedom but also heightened conflict. Congress can reintroduce a degree of democracy promotion into U.S. foreign policy, but it will take American citizens to elect representatives at every level who are prepared to compromise for the national good.

Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "A World in Disarray."

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - World

Death toll mounts as fighting between Israel and Hamas intensifies

Palestinian Muslims exchange wishes for Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, near a razed building in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, on May 13. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

At least 109 Palestinians and seven people in Israel have been killed since recent fighting between Israel's military and Hamas began Monday.

The big picture: Israel began massing troops on its border with Gaza on Thursday, launching attacks from the air and ground as Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel.

By the numbers: Where the earmarks are wanted

Expand chart
Data: House Committee on Appropriations; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The Dallas-Fort Worth area is being targeted for the largest collective earmark request in the country, according to a detailed breakdown of overall requests released by the House Appropriations Committee.

Why it matters: House appropriators are trying to balance bipartisan momentum for infrastructure investment with "pork-barrel" spending's checkered political history. The data dump is an effort to provide transparency for what are now termed "community project funding" requests.

Democrats open to user fees for infrastructure deal

President Biden sits Thursday with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as they discuss his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal. Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Some Senate Democrats are open to paying for a compromise infrastructure package by imposing user fees, including increasing the gas tax and raising money from electric car drivers through a vehicle-miles-traveled charge.

Why it matters: By inching toward the Republican position on pay-fors, some Democrats are bucking President Biden's push to offset his proposed $2.3 trillion plan by focusing only on raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy.