Man on the Hill Thinking vs. Of the People, By the People and For the People

I start this article by stating up front that I am an immigrant. I point out that I am an immigrant so those who read this article do not think that I am some American just out to bash immigrants. I think as an immigrant I can comment on the behavior of my fellow immigrants.

People talk about American greatness. There is a debate between those who think American is great, or was great, and those who think American is not great and never was. Those who think America is great point to our economic system that has pulled much of the world out of poverty, our saving Europe during two vicious world wars, our commitment to freedom and liberty and the rights entrenched in our constitution. Those who think American is not great (some even think that America is evil) point out its history of slavery, imperialistic wars with Spain and Mexico, and its support of some rather nasty characters on the world scene. A colleague of mine even suggested that thinking America is great is a fascist way of thinking, and alludes to the fact that Hitler thought Germany was great.

As an immigrant, I never thought much about whether America was great. I moved to the United States for three reasons. First, like many immigrants, I thought I could do better financially than in my home country. Second, I liked Americans. I had traveled extensively in the United States before moving here, and everywhere I went I found wonderful people who treated me well. Third, I found American attitudes refreshing. In my home country there is a negativity that pervades conversations, and I found Americans viewed things with a more positive and optimist outlook.

I have lived in the United States for thirty years now. And while I always thought there was something different about the United States, I was not very good at articulating it. However, I finally think I have figured it out and I am going to attempt to explain it. Remember I said different. I will let you make the decision if different is “better” or “worse.”

Many immigrants come to America with what I call “man on the hill” thinking. What do I mean by that? Most societies around the globe evolved into a form of organization where there was a ruling class (the people who lived up on the hill, probably in a big castle or similarly nice dwelling). I use the term “hill” loosely because I suspect you could find a place where the ruling class did not live on a hill, but most of those castles in Europe are indeed built on hills.

Before elections, when rulers ruled with an iron fist, the man on the hill gave the orders and if you obeyed the man on the hill, you could do well for yourself. The man on the hill allowed you to till the soil, or operate some small shop, and in return the man on the hill wanted some of what you grew, some of what you made, and if needed you would have to grab an axe or pitchfork and help the man on the hill protect his castle from the nasty folks in the next valley.

Although much of the world has transitioned from non-elected leaders to elected leaders (110 countries out of 167 were judged to be democracies as of 2021) many studies show that elections in many of those countries are rigged or not truly democratic. Most democracies are flawed or hybrid democracies. One website suggests that there are only 23 true democratic countries. (World Population Review, 2021)

In those countries that are not true democracies, citizens still have a lot of “man on the hill” thinking going on. While some of those citizens may be able to vote, and may have some say in what goes on in their country, they still believe that their relationship with the people in the government is one where they give allegiance to those people (in the form of votes, flag waiving and rallies) in exchange for something of benefit to themselves, their families or their tribe (in the form of handouts, privileges or other benefits). The concept that the elected officials work for the citizens and that the government is a “government of the people, by the people and for the people” simply does not exist because in those countries it doesn’t.

What happens with these people (like me) move to the United States? They bring with them “man on the hill” thinking. They, like me, probably are most concerned about their personal financial well-being, and not so much on how the government works. And that is understandable. Except it is the way the government works in the United States (at least historically) that provides for the financial system that provides for that financial well being that immigrants are looking for. Instead, they come here thinking that their allegiance to a given politician is a function of the handouts they receive from that politician (what’s in it for me) just like it was in their home country. They eagerly find a “man on the hill” to throw their support behind, expecting that handouts and payoffs will flow in their direction.

The problem is that “man on the hill” thinking is the very thing the Founding Fathers designed our system to avoid. They realized that “man on the hill” thinking was dysfunctional if a country was to have a healthy, vibrant economy where all citizens had the opportunity to participate.

So why don’t we teach immigrants (like me) and the young people in our country how our system differs from the “man on the hill” thinking that pervades the world? Why don’t we require that EVERY immigrant and EVERY student study our form of government, why it is different from the forms of governments in other countries and why it results in the economic engine that drives world prosperity? I believe there are five reasons.

First, a lot of people just don’t understand the relationship between our system and the results it produces. They credit American prosperity with natural resources, building wealth on the backs of slaves or stealing it all from Native Americas. But if that were true, Brazil, Mexico and Cuba would be as wealthy as the United States. Those countries are not as wealthy because they have different systems – systems that don’t support and encourage individual freedom and prosperity.

Second, the American system is a big problem for the “men on the hill.” People in power, even in the United States, don’t really want the average person to have a say in what goes on. Those people in power want to use their positions to enrich friends and relatives, enjoy the benefits of the ruling elite and stay in power as long as possible. As an example, in US history we have had 62 congressmen who “served” for more than 40 years. Our current president, Joe Biden, was first elected to the Senate in 1972. That’s not what the Founding Fathers envisioned.

Third, we are naïve. Because we understand the role that freedom, liberty and the American system play in our prosperity and success, we automatically assume that everyone around the globe understands the same thing. The truth is they don’t. The “man on the hill” thinking pervades people around the globe. It is ingrained in their culture. They bring that culture with them to the United States. It can take a long time for immigrants to understand how our system works and why it produces the results it does. It took me about 20 years.

Fourth, we don’t insist people like me – immigrants – learn the fundamentals of how the American system works and why it is different than systems in other places. When I immigrated to the United States, I had to produce such things as school transcripts, police records and medical records. But at no time did I have to take courses in how the American system works or prove I understood it. I did have to answer a few questions like how many stars and stripes on the flag and how many elected officials serve in congress, but nothing about why our system differs from those countries where “men on the hill” systems proliferate.

Finally, there are people who live in the United States who hate our system and unfortunately a lot of those people are responsible for teaching our children. They hate our system because our system guarantees equality of opportunity, not equality of results. Today many people think equality of opportunity is not enough and they want to use the government as a method of enforcing equality of results. They think there must be a better way, and their better way is to get rid of the very system that has provided freedom, liberty, and economic prosperity not just to Americans, but to people around the globe. Of course, history is pretty clear that so far no system has shown to provide for more prosperity, for more people, than any other system every devised.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am an immigrant, and I am all in favor of immigrants. I think finding people from around the globe who want to use the American system to build economic prosperity for themselves, their families and their community is part of what makes American the great country that it is. But let’s not forget the role our system plays in that prosperity, and let’s make sure those new immigrants understand that “man on the hill” thinking is one of the reasons their own country doesn’t work to the benefit of those people who want to come to the United States, and why they shouldn’t use “man on the hill” thinking when choosing whom to vote for, once they can vote here in the United States.

Simply put, immigrants are welcome but “man on the hill” thinking is not.

Works Cited
World Population Review. (2021). Democracy Countries 2021. Retrieved from World Population Review: