Threats to the federal system of checks and balances have knocked the United States out of the top 20 "cleanest" countries in the world, the watchdog group Transparency International announced Tuesday.
The not-for-profit, based in Berlin, works to combat governmental corruption around the world. It annually issues a Corruption Perceptions Index, and the new report for 2018 showed more than two-thirds of countries scoring below 50, on its scale where 100 is perfectly clean and zero is comprehensively corrupt.
The United States' scored a 71, a drop of four points in a year. That pushed the country out of the top 20 for the first time since 2011.
"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," the organization said. "If this trend continues, it would indicate a serious corruption problem in a country that has taken a lead on the issue globally — this is a bipartisan issue that requires a bipartisan solution."
Full democracies scored an average of 75 on the corruption index, flawed democracies averaged 49, and autocratic regimes averaged 30, the organization said.
The index is calculated using 13 different data sources that provide perceptions of public-sector corruption from business people and country experts.
Overall, Denmark led the survey as the least corrupt nation (score of 88) followed by New Zealand, Finland, Singapore and Sweden. Somalia was rated the most corrupt (10) followed by Syria, South Sudan, Yemen and North Korea.
Transparency International said the Americas were in a particularly alarming state.
"From President Trump (US) and President Bolsonaro (Brazil) to President Jimmy Morales (Guatemala) and President Maduro (Venezuela), the Americas region is witnessing a rise in some leaders and leadership styles that favor a number of the following tactics, the report said.
It went on to list an "undermining" of a free press "especially when coverage challenges leaders' messaging," increased "voter suppression and disenfranchisement," the rise of "anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, anti-indigenous and racist language," the increasing use of "public promises for simplistic and 'strong hand' approaches to solving deep-rooted and complex societal problems," the "blunt use of national institutions to weaken the system of checks and balances and increase executive power" and "an increase in conflicts of interest and private influence.'"
Transparency United concluded: "Unfortunately, this new reality, which is also part of a global trend, is transforming the 'way of doing politics' across the region, where authoritarian-style leaders are undermining democratic practices."