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Opinion: President Trump, Peacemaker?

By Jean Kazez
17 May 2018

Lately, people have been talking about President Donald Trump deserving the Nobel Peace Prize. Everything about that sentence is chilling, but that’s what people are saying. Even some of my liberal friends are saying that if Trump’s talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un lead to reconciliation between North and South Korea, denuclearization, or other good results, he’ll be a contender. Less surprisingly, there’s a group of 18 Republican Congress members lobbying for him to win the award. But no. This is ridiculous, and here’s why.

The first reason Trump is undeserving is that whatever good Trump does by negotiating with Kim Jong-un, he has a great deal of anti-peaceable conduct to answer for. At the same time as he was earning peace points for making progress with North Korea, he was earning discord points by withdrawing from the Iran deal. Earlier in his presidency, he took the anti-peaceful steps of withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, undoing environmental regulations, turning his back on refugees, stirring up xenophobia and racism, and demeaning women.

Now, there’s a precedent for awarding the peace prize based on a specific accomplishment, and despite past sins. For example, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin shared the prize in 1994 “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.” As chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Arafat was not exactly Mahatma Gandhi. As a matter of fact, Kim Jong-un’s horrific record doesn’t even place him beyond the pale as a possible co-winner.

Nevertheless, the Nobel committee often does view candidates holistically. How else to explain why Barack Obama won the peace prize in 2009 (what exactly had he done?) or why the European Union won it in 2012, or the United Nations won it in 2001? The committee certainly can judge Trump undeserving because in many respects he’s the opposite of a man of peace. And (I maintain) they should.

There’s another reason why Trump doesn’t deserve to be lauded as a peacemaker. At least so far, there’s no evidence that any good results he may accomplish will be due to laudable behavior on his part.  In fact, it may very well be that it’s the toddler volleyball that’s been effective. Kim seems to have been impressed with Trump calling him “rocket man,” returning words like “mentally deranged,” “senile,” and the infamous and puzzling “dotard.” To which Trump responded with “madman” and “short and fat” and that boast about his nuclear button being bigger than Kim’s. Now, it just may be that bluster and bullying make these two feel like kindred spirits and that it will bring about positive results, but are the results all that matters?

Surely not. The Nobel Peace Prize doesn’t just recognize agents of peace but holds up certain sorts of efforts to bring about peace. It says “Do as this person has done!”  Acting like a pugnacious toddler on the world stage may turn out to be effective in this particular case, but tends to lead to bad results. It goes into the “not like this” box along with many other occasionally successful ways of bringing about peace. Now and again people accomplish peace through tyranny, through lunacy, through coercion. Not to mention that more-than-occasionally successful means of securing peace, stockpiling nuclear weapons. Surely people don’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for just anything that has peaceful results.

The third reason to stop the Trump-for-the-Nobel nonsense is that there are much better candidates for the peace prize than Donald Trump. I hereby nominate the high school students who endured a mass shooting in Parkland Florida and then, in the aftermath, organized the March for Our Lives events in Washington D.C. and across the nation, involving themselves in countless town halls and other initiatives, speaking to the media with astonishing eloquence and candor, all while putting their lives back together and doing all the things that high school students have to do. Their efforts have brought about a modest amount of gun reform, but besides that, they do give us a model to follow. The world would be a better place if there were more people like the Parkland teenagers.

Jean Kazez teaches philosophy at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She is the author of The Philosophical Parent: Asking the Hard Questions about Having and Raising Children (Oxford University Press) and two previous books. Find out more at kazez.blogspot.com.
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