Over the last twelve months or so there has been a swathe of incidents or circumstances that have pitched the very substance of what we in the West perceive as democracy into that fine balancing act between serving the people or controlling the people.
If we start with the premise that possibly all forms of governance are somewhat delicately poised between, shall we say, success or failure then we can also see that the very processes of government have to be flexible enough to accommodate a particular political bias. A left bias perhaps pitches the processes toward social legislation and reform whilst a right bias errs toward more dramatic and strategic change. Politicians who believe themselves to be smart try to hedge their bets and become centreists so that they can swing either way as the popular mood dictates. Not really the smartest move in real terms. Yet we've seen with the cut and thrust of the arguments with Brexit and the EU, the ugly mood of American divisiveness, the totalitarianism of Russia, China and the Myanmar military to name but a few, that in some instances there is no centre ground to arbitrate from. You are either in or out of the game, no debate, no negotiation, no compromising - just hard-line positioning until one side or the other breaks.
In that, totalitarianism has the upper hand. Its politics are singular rather than inclusive and focus around either a central figure who has successfully grabbed the reins of power or alternatively an ideology that is so continuously pumped out at its population that there appears a complete besottedness and subservience to its creed. Democracy in its true sense is nowhere to be found in these places although it is a word frequently used to describe the munificence of the totalitarian state when it comes to the so-called aid of a minor state engaged in some sort of squabble with itself - "...we support the democratic aims of our comrades in their struggle.." blah, blah, blah. Rhetoric is cheap. Reality is strategic advantage.
Yet we have little room to crow in the West. Our notions of democracy are as frail as we might imagine are those reins of power in totalitarian states. If we look at popular democracy as an example, ask yourself whether you truly have representation, access to complete justice, a voice that is free to opinionate and do so without recrimination, opportunity to influence and lobby those with power and you will find that for most people these elements of democracy do not properly exist. The old Roman adage of 'governance of the people, by the people and for the people' is a grand posturing ambition - but no so called democracy has ever achieved it in practise. This isn't to say that the dilute version we generally accept as democracy isn't worth protecting. It is. Yet when the going gets tough in any situation, the gloves come off and nation states start sparring and employing tactics that ordinarily would be frowned upon in normal times - I'll use Josep Borell's ill judged kow-towing to Russia to try and obtain Covid vaccine supplies for the EU, only to be rebuffed by the Russians with some considerable smugness as they watched the farce being played out in Brussels. Diplomacy and good intent nowhere to be seen - just strategic advantage.
So where does this all leave Western democracy. Weakened, for sure but perhaps just showing the glimmerings of a wake-up following a few notable jolts. A new presidency in the US, a push-back against woke prejudice in the UK, a new chancellorship in Germany coming soon, and looking at a tough election for the French that may teach its incumbent government some sense. All are 'maybe's', but let us hope that at least some of them win through. For all our sakes.