I can't help but think of this phrase in Donald Trump's Inauguration address: "When America is united, America is totally unstoppable."
Yet, I have never seen the country this divided. Not ever. Which means, sadly, that America is stoppable.
I'm not saying we need a "consensus builder" – my favourite president, Teddy Roosevelt, did in fact coin the term "the bully pulpit" to describe the Oval Office. But we do need a uniter in the White House now, more than any time since the Civil War – not a divider.
Many in the Republican camp will say "get over it, he won" – which is true – or say "stop talking politics, it influences your economic view."
Of course politics influences my economic view, since my concern is for a high-risk of policy mistakes. I have no doubt that trade/tariff policy is a lose-lose scenario for America and the world, and I have done the analysis.
The problem is that governments have done a poor job in smoothing the process and redistributing the income – and prospective policy continues to ignore these issues.
I strongly believe that we will look back at many (not all, but many) of Mr. Trump's policies as not moving the dial on the economy. And we will look back in four years and see a similar 2 per cent real GDP growth trend as we did under Barack Obama's tenure. (I adore optimists, but I am concerned that they put too much emphasis on the White House whereas there is no evidence that fiscal or regulatory policy have ever done much more than skew GDP growth by a few basis points here or there.)
Offsetting whatever "good stuff" there is in the policy plank is the heightened level of uncertainty.
The President is beginning where Barack Obama left off by governing the country with a dizzying array of executive orders – from the wall with Mexico, to pipeline expansion approvals, to health care, to funding cuts for so-called "sanctuary cities," to the North American free-trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to restoring a ban on funding groups that provide abortions overseas, to a moratorium on visas from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Note that officials in most cities have vowed to challenge some of these moves in court. One quip, in particular, by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham was priceless: "Simply put, any policy proposal which drives up costs of Corona, tequila or Margarita is a big-time bad idea."
John Cornyn, a member of the Republican Senate leadership team, tweeted: "Many unanswered questions about proposed 'border adjustment' tax." Yeah, like how it will destroy the retail industry and severely crimp real spending power domestically while benefiting exporters. You have to go back to 1950 to find the last time the United States walked away from a negotiated trade treaty such as NAFTA, and the last time we had an Administration so protectionist was during Herbert Hoover's presidency.
The 1950s was sprinkled with three recessions and the 1930s represented the Great Depression – so we have lots to look forward to.
There is no deregulation or tax reform that will compensate for the anti-trade measures. Only with the passage of time will this become apparent to the legions of Trump cheerleaders out there. Recall that the last president to receive such a warm initial welcome from the stock market was Herbert Hoover. Few knew in 1928 that he would be a one-term president.
In any event, we have a divided nation on our hands and the situation is not getting better.
The President against the media. The President against the intelligence community. The President against Mexico and China. The President against globalization and global institutions. The President against his own party. The President against the elite and the establishment (even as he stuffs his cabinet with billionaires who likely haven't seen the inside of a subway in decades).
I get so many questions about how to model "animal spirits" in the GDP forecasts – how about trying to model unprecedented disunity? Mr. Trump was elected on an anti-trade, anti-immigration, anti-Mexico/China, anti-regulation, anti-establishment platform. And, so far, in short order, he is living up to his pledges. But the danger here, from a policy-mistake perspective, is that Mr. Trump gets easily distracted. Humiliating Mexico's leadership and openly questioning the popular vote in the election aren't the hallmarks of great leadership.
I can't be the only one thinking that something is wrong and that investors should be seeking out some hedges such as the CBOE volatility index, gold or anything that compensates for the ultra-high period of uncertainty we are in today.
David Rosenberg is chief economist with Gluskin Sheff + Associates Inc. and author of the daily economic newsletter Breakfast with Dave.