President Joe Biden delivers remarks via video during a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on Tuesday.  Photo by Sarah Silbiger/UPI | License Photo
Too often, American public opinion operates as if it were a school of fish. Even the slightest disturbance in the water can impel the school to change course instantly and en masse as if it were a practiced drill team.
Elevating China and Russia from competitors to adversaries is a case in point by exaggerating threats that may not exist. That hype was accentuated last week by President Joe Biden's commitment at a televised town hall meeting to come to Taiwan's defense if invaded by China.
While China hawks welcomed this promise, the White House immediately issued a retraction. For all his experience in foreign relations and chairmanship of that Senate committee, Biden either forgot or ignored the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and U.S. recognition of the Peoples' Republic of China.
That law was NOT a mutual defense pact. It was written on the basis that "strategic ambiguity" about what the United States would or would not do to defend Taiwan was the best policy.
Another topic where the public often acts as a school of fish regards the alleged decline of America. Too many pundits are hyperventilating about the end of America's greatness. This demise is attributed to the seemingly irreversible partisan divides that have turned American into two red and lue countries. Inflation fears, amplified by the bungled retreat from Afghanistan and the extraordinary economic situation of having at least 10 million unfilled jobs and 8 million Americans "resigning" and leaving work, are seen as further unmistakable symptoms of decline.
But if hyperventilation is to be put to good use, it should be focused on fixing a government that is both failed and failing. There is no rational reason why the United States should be in decline. No other country in the world offers such opportunities. Start-ups and small businesses are the most productive anywhere. Technology and innovation abound. However, Houston, there is a problem.
In simple terms, responsibility for this condition rests with the Republican and Democratic parties. Some time ago, I wrote, one party lost its mind, the other its soul. Today both parties have lost both minds and souls to expediency and the pursuit of power irrespective of the rules, exacerbated by anger, resentment and ideological rigidity replacing civility, decency and compromise.
For Democrats, the progressive far left has distorted traditional values and ignored common sense. Democrats have the tiniest of margins in Congress. Yet, the way Democrats have advanced their agenda for massive social transformation arrogantly assumed a huge mandate it does not have. And a foreign policy only for the middle class eliminates the 100 million or more Americans who are not in the middle class.
For Republicans, the party of fiscal and moral responsibility, smaller government and an engaged foreign policy, only a handful of outcasts such as the late Colin Powell, John Kasich, Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney believed in that. Republicans now embrace destructive myths such as a stolen election; inability of masks and vaccinations to stop COVID-19; and the hypocritical position that the right to reject inoculations on the grounds that individuals should maintain control of their bodies does not apply to a woman's right to choose.
The results of these aberrations induced a progression of administrations and Congresses that were incapable of governing and uniting a deeply fragmented country. Mutual hostility has long past the danger point. These are major reasons why America's failure to govern, if not reversed, has become the nation's greatest threat. What to do?
Thomas Jefferson believed that every generation should revise the Constitution. However noble or sensible a recommendation, amending the Constitution is politically infeasible. Forming a third party has never worked other than changing the outcome of one or two elections. Thus, perhaps the only way to get America back on a positive trajectory is to reform either or both political parties.
How to achieve reform is crucial. Until the Republican Party removes the shackles of becoming the TOP -- Trump's Own Party -- only Democrats can undertake real reform. The expectation is that reform would produce electoral success based on sensible policies and eventually a public mandate to govern manifest by greater control of both houses of Congress.
One means to ensure this transition is to build on Biden's greatest strength -- his decency. Decency sadly has been left by the wayside by both parties. And it cannot be only attributed to the personality of Donald Trump and the unintended consequences of his presidency. But will Democrats seize this opportunity? On that the nation's future may rest.
Harlan Ullman is senior adviser at Washington, D.C.'s Atlantic Council, the prime author of "shock and awe" and author of the upcoming book "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large."
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods opens with remarks before a hearing
on "Fueling the Climate Crisis: Exposing Big Oils Disinformation Campaign to Prevent Climate Action" at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo