As a teenager politics was a fervent passion, but after three months as a junior political reporter in the Victorian Parliament in 1969, disenchantment with our democratic system displaced my commitment to politics.
Five years later, living in Franco’s Spain teaching English and studying Spanish, my personal experience of fascism over five months rekindled my political enthusiasm.
The totalitarian regime, with inhabitants afraid to criticise the government, let alone protest vociferously for fear of persecution, torture and imprisonment, dissipated my cynicism and disillusionment with politics in the West.
Many people were scared into silence. When I attempted to converse with one middle-aged man about the country’s system, he assumed I was a Francophile ‘‘spy’’ masquerading as an innocent traveller and shut up.
Currently, with mistrust of governments permeating popular political perspectives, it is imperative to acknowledge the positives about democracy across the Western world.
It is simplistic to herald its demise as Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt do in How Democracies Die, asserting “Elected autocrats maintain a veneer of democracy while eviscerating its substance.”
Yet to read their book, it is unequivocally true that many leaders seemingly betray their stated commitment to democracy – for example, Erdogan in Turkey who imprisoned thousands for participating in a supposed coup against his government. But the problem may not be with democracy per se; rather diverse leaders’ delusional adherence to their disingenuous belief in the first place.
Many democratic proponents succumb to sensational and unscrupulous suspicion of their people, paying lip service to democratic ideals.
Perhaps reality dictates we perceive Western politics in the present imperfect, appreciating politicians are not infallible, poised on pedestals of power as sagacious saints.
A significant issue perhaps is the values people associate with democracy; that politicians will intrinsically be honest, transparent and responsible and more significantly, care compassionately about their lives, respecting and legislating liberty for all.
Acumen and amity have never been all pervasive in parliament, worldwide.
Despite disconcerting problems with our politics, it is important to comprehend that unlike China, Russia, North Korea and Cambodia among other nations, people in the West can protest reasonably in the streets and express dissent without fear of retribution.
Fortunately in Australia, we can voice our different opinions with relative impunity, inspiring us to maintain faith in our politicians to ensure democracy here does not die by atrophy, apathy or antipathy towards them.
As 20th century American political journalist, Professor Norman Cousins, penned: “The biggest and most pertinent lesson…for democracies is that they cannot take their existence for granted.”