Trump and the Fire Hose

Posted on 2017 April 16


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Years ago I heard someone say, “The presidency is like a fire hose — lots of power rushes through it, but it’s hard to move.” I took that to mean that everything you do, as the most powerful person on Earth, is constrained by precedent, tradition, opposition, and tactical limitations.

I mentioned the quote to a friend, and we discussed it.

Years go by, Trump gets elected. He roars into action at full throttle — promising to put out the fires of previous government fiascos — and promptly runs into a daunting series of roadblocks, traffic jams, and people trying to cut the hoses and switch off the water.

The other day, the friend wrote, “I keep thinking of your observation about the fire hose and the presidency.”

I replied:

Ah, yes, the fire hose. Tons of power but hard to move.

People become so enamored of the glory and power of the presidency that they forget the president is always in a battle against people who will do everything they can to stop him. Thinking, “Now that he’s president, he’ll get what he wants” is like saying, “We have a baseball team! We win!” No, we get to PLAY, but whether we WIN is a bit of a coin toss.

Politics is a zero-sum game — somebody has to lose but nobody wants to — and the top office is inherently beset by opposing forces. The president wields tremendous power yet has very little room to move. Every option contains huge drawbacks.

Thus, the Chinese have a saying: “You should rule a large country like you cook a small fish.” I take that to mean: delicately. Trump is hardly delicate. That doesn’t mean he won’t get his way. But right now he’s learning how to aim the fire hose.


Posted in: Politics