Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 12.20.15
Just Outside Washington


How do you rate America?

We Americans claim that we have the greatest democracy that the world has ever seen. We refer to the high principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And we suggest that the rest of the world follow our lead.

However, there are many who think America has lost its way. There are organizations that have identified America's failings and want to restore: "American Liberty," "American History," "American Glory," or just "America." They believe that America was better in the past at living up to our democratic ideals.

The Street Law, a 40-year-old group promoting legal education, holds that there are 13 principles of democracy. I have provided some data for each of their thirteen principles. There is additional data available and plenty of opinions in the media, on the Internet and from organizations.

Our education system currently emphasizes tests, so I have structured this somewhat to resemble a test. As you read about each principle and other data that you have, please enter a score in the blanks -- 1 (lowest) through 5 (highest) -- to see how you think we Americans are doing with respect to the principles of our democracy; then add for a total: 65 is a perfect score.


The major way we participate is in elections. In 2014, just 36.4 percent of the eligible voters voted; and in the 2012 presidential election, when there was more participation, 58.2 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls. It gets worse; in the 2015 Virginia state election for all state and local officials except the executive branch, participation was 29.1 percent. By the way, only 67 % of eligible voters are registered to vote. Your Score is:


The Census Bureau says that the top 20 percent of households take home 51 percent of all the household income in the U.S. The share of wealth of America's top 3 percent rose from 44.8 percent to 54.4 percent in 2013. The top 3 percent now hold over double the wealth of America's poorest 90 percent of families. Depending upon which state we choose; women make between 87.6 percent and 66.7 percent of men make in comparable jobs. And, we still discriminate against people because of their race, religion, ethnic group, gender; or sexual orientation. Your Score is:


The U.S. is composed of people from different cultures, racial, religious, and ethnic groups who differ from the majority of the population. While the majority of the people rule in a democracy, the rights of the minority must be protected. In the U.S., minority views about religion, justice, and politics can be expressed in the press, social media, and by protests; all are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

However, there seem to be increasing demands for political correctness, and content and trigger warnings. We also have a tendency to turn political issues into moral crusades, e.g., gun rights, religious freedom, contraception, etc. Your Score is:


Elected and appointed officials are supposed to be accountable to the people and this is ultimately true. Officials mostly make decisions and perform their duties according to the law and the will of the people, but lack of participation hinders accountability. Further lack of transparency hinders accountability. After the 2008 crash, many financial firms were found to using fraudulent practices and were fined. But, almost no one went to jail but Bernie Madoff. Your Score is:


For government -- federal, state and local -- to be accountable, information must be available. The U.S. has a free press, regular published data, and public meetings. We also have security blackouts and withholding of information, especially at the state and local level. Should transparency extend to corporate, which we charter and support? Your Score is:


The U.S has regular elections at the federal, state and local levels. However, our election process restricts access to the polls by minority groups in many states, so not so free. And, are they fair? The counting of votes seems good at this time; not much fraud. We have election districts structured to keep the incumbent representatives from having serious competition. Our Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech, so the rich can shout others down. Your Score is:


The U.S. has private enterprise, including ownership of property and businesses. People are free to engage in economic activity, except: (1) the ability to form unions in order to bargain collectively with large entities and (2) federal, state, and local regulations restrict business and economic activity. Your Score is:


Currently, the power of police at the local level is being questioned concerning excessive violence, warrantless searches, and seizure of assets without a conviction. The federal government's power to collect phone data and internet communications is being questioned. People are not supposed to be locked up without due process, yet we have many migrants in government facilities (jails?) and we recall the Japanese internment of WWII. Your Score is:


The U.S. Constitution has a Bill of Rights, which guides the law. The Supreme Court interprets the rights in the Bill of Rights. Your Score is:


The results of elections has been accepted by the people. This is true even when election are tampered with; example, the Supreme Court's interference in the Florida presidential election in 2000. Your Score is:


We Americans say we support values that reflect respect for human life and human dignity. The Constitution honors human rights including freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, the right to equality, and the right to education. We have rights codified in the Bill of Rights and in the law. However, the US Bureau of Justice Statistics says we had 2,220,300 adults in federal, state, and local jails in 2013. That makes the U.S. incarceration rate second in the world on a per capita basis. Your Score is:


The U.S. has a-two party system with occasional third parties. Your Score is:


The Constitution is replete with references to the law. It says that even the President is not above the law but can be impeached or forced to resign. We say that everyone is equal before the law but the legal process is slow -- justice delayed is justice denied. And those with wealth have a better chance before the Law. Sometimes, those charged with administering the law do not follow the procedures that insure justice. For example: the first DNA exoneration took place in 1989, since then 333 exonerations have been won in 37 states. Your Score is:

I have assigned the United States a score for each of the thirteen principles. I tend to be data oriented, optimistic, and have faith in my fellow humans; but my scores are, in the end, subjective. My total score is 51 out of 65 or 78 percent.