Yesterday at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, two men who possess very deep and vastly different histories with debt sat down and had a fireside chat that was neither a chat nor anywhere near a fire.
But the Q&A session between Donald Trump and John Paulson was televised, so we know that the whole "fireside" thing was just the tip of the bullshit iceberg. What the video shows us is a hedge fund manager well-versed in global markets and a proven master of betting on debt sitting across from a man renowned for defaulting on loans, crowing about his business acumen and then defaulting again.
So guess who was lecturing whom.
Here's Donald Trump telling John f@cking Paulson how debt works...
PAULSON: Is there any scenario you would consider defaulting on the U.S. debt?
TRUMP: No. There are scenarios where you could buy back debt... This isn't like you're building a real estate project and the market crashes and you have your shot at a bank. I love those days, y'know? I love that. Somebody said I'm one of the great in the world at that. I love buying back debt, I love negotiating debt. But with the United States you're talking about something beyond a gold standard. So, no. The answer is no.
Somehow, Paulson managed to keep a straight face through the entirety of that answer. Maybe because he understands better than most how to profit from a market crash, Paulson did not so much as raise an eyebrow to a major party presidential candidate saying into a microphone that he "loves" when the American weakens and he is able to create personal wealth at the expense of banks, their shareholders, and perhaps even the FDIC.
But listening to Trump drone on about what he thinks he knows - and peppering it with compliments that he made up on the spot before attributing to them to nonexistent people who share his criminally poor grammar - is somewhat intoxicating. On a subject as broad and beyond Trump as the national debt, Paulson can almost be forgiven for sitting like a lummox and listening. But when Trump tee'd off on China - an economy in which Paulson has parked a significant amount of money - one assumed that Paulson would speak up, especially when Trump dragged him into a bizarrely offensive rant like this when talking about trade deals.
TRUMP: Here would be a man to negotiate [motions to Paulson], I think I'll put him in charge of China. And you know what, we'll do very well. Just put him in the room for a few days and we'll do very well. But seriously, we have to use the best negotiators...When China enters that room, they come in with 20 people that are the toughest, smartest, meanest - they don't say "Good morning," "Isn't it a lovely day?" "Isn't it wonderful?" "How did the Yankees do last night?" - it's like, there's no talk, we get down to business. Boom. No games. We put people in there who don't know what they're doing. This is why we have deficits of $500 billion with one country. We rebuilt China, and I say that with respect for China. I have a great relationship with China. They [ed note: we assume "they" is literally the entire peoples of China] used to tell me, before I announced I was running - I have many friends in China, the biggest people, the richest people - they cannot believe what China gets away with. They say "We can't believe it." Then when I announced when I was running for president they called, "We really didn't mean that." They didn't like it, they didn't know this was going to happen. But in the good old days [ed note: we assume "good old days" is when China was ripping the U.S. off right and left] they would tell me "We can't believe it! You government is STUPID!"
Just to clarify, Trump delivered the last line in what could most fairly be described as somewhat racist accent. Essentially, with Paulson sitting across from him, Trump took a verbal dump on decades of American trade policy, accused China of purposefully screwing us over for years, admitted he was at least partially complicit in that process, proposed that Paulson be his trade emissary to China, and then did a Charlie Chan voice that would likely offend many Chinese people.
So how did Paulson ameliorate the nightmare. Did he correct Trump slightly on how sovereign debt works or attempt to dig Trump out of the verbal diarrhea pile that he spewed and stepped into whilst discussing China?
No. John Paulson, a serious investment professional with decades of experience in global finance, looked at his notes and without even a hint of irony asked the reality TV star who bankrupted a handful of casinos and went to war with the nation of Scotland over a golf course this question:
"If you were to advise the Fed, what would you advise them to do about interest rate policy?"
While we don't claim to know where things are headed next, we have at the very least established a precedent in which Colin Powell sits in a leather armchair and sincerely asks Miley Cyrus how she would solve the problem in Syria.