By Zachery Tyson Brown for InsideSources.com
Four American presidents have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The first was Theodore Roosevelt, for his work to bring an end to the Russo-Japanese war. The second was Woodrow Wilson, whose Fourteen Points remain the framework upon which the liberal world order tenuously hangs. The third was Jimmy Carter, who was recognized for a lifetime of post-presidential service advancing the cause of human dignity and freedom.
When President Barack Obama was the fourth to be nominated in 2009, his Republican detractors howled in outrage. But what Obama’s conservative critics missed was that the youthful president was not awarded the Nobel on the hopes of what he might accomplish, but on the audacity of hope itself — a quality Obama practically embodied, one that had propelled him to The White House.
What a contrast between then and now.
President Donald Trump would be the fifth American president to win the Nobel Peace Prize if selected by the committee. But if Trump embodies anything, it’s only mendacity and fear. Where Obama said, “Yes We Can,” Trump said “Only I Can.” Where Obama sought to strengthen America’s alliances, Trump has abrogated our treaties and abandoned our allies. Where Obama entered office with a message exhorting Americans to reject fear and choose hope, Trump did so by describing an “American carnage” — which in retrospect seems like more of a promise.
From a pandemic that has needlessly killed more Americans in a scant few months than 20 years of terrorism and war, to a torrent of police brutality, violent white nationalism and lawless vigilantism, this year alone has brought the contradictions between these two administrations into high relief. The overlapping medical, economic, societal and civil-military crises of 2020 have deepened impressions of the United States as a declining power unable to solve its own problems, let alone help anyone else with theirs. They have produced grim assessments of a former superpower reduced to the “sick man” of the 21st-century, even as a failed state. National pride is at an all-time low, and Americans have entered the final weeks of a contentious election more angry, ashamed and afraid than they’ve ever been.
The notion that Donald Trump — the man who earlier this year attempted to start a war with Iran to distract from his impeachment trial, who just this summer called the world wars “beautiful,” who just last week bragged about possessing a secret nuclear doomsday weapon — should be awarded the Nobel would be laughable if it weren’t so outrageous.
Obama was nominated, according to former Norwegian Prime Minister Thorbjorn Jagland, on account of the aspirational tenor of his presidential campaign. “No one could deny,” Jagland said, “that the international climate had suddenly improved, and that Mr. Obama was the main reason. … We want to embrace the message that he stands for.”
Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a far-right Norwegian parliamentarian, nominated Trump — ostensibly for his work toward a settlement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. An agreement was signed, but both sides are already disagreeing over its interpretation, and the Palestinian Authority has rejected it outright. Even if we grant the merits of the accord on its face, however, Gjedde’s motivations for nominating Trump are suspect.
He is best known inside Norway for anti-immigrant rhetoric scarcely distinguishable from that of Anders Breivik, the terrorist who slaughtered 77 people in 2011. Outside of Norway he is known as a strong supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and coincidentally enough, an advocate for Norway and the European Union to legitimize Putin’s illegal seizure of Crimea in 2014. He might as well have nominated Putin himself, because the Russian president is one of the few world leaders to embrace what Trump supports.
Alfred Nobel gave few guidelines to choose future recipients of his prize. But the first and most important was that they had worked for fraternity between nations. Theodore Roosevelt did that with an indefatigable spirit that brought two warring emperors to the negotiation table. Woodrow Wilson did it by uniting the people of the world, in spirit, if not in deed. Jimmy Carter did it with decades of untiring effort to make our world a better place. Barack Obama did it by inspiring people around the world with the idea of America itself.
Instead of promoting brotherhood between nations, Donald Trump has only sown division, both at home and abroad. It is insulting enough that his name will forever be associated with those other presidents. It should not mar the list of Nobel Prize recipients.
Zachery Tyson Brown is a security fellow at the left-leaning Truman National Security Project and a founding member of The Steady State, a veterans group that opposes Donald Trump’s reelection.