Why Donald Trump Isn’t Nobel Laureate Material

Image of Donald Trump looking angry and pointing a finger

Woodrow Wilson. Lester B. Pearson. Martin Luther King Jr. Mother Teresa. Desmond Tutu. Nelson Mandela. … Donald Trump.

While thinking about this list of famous people, it isn’t hard to imagine you’re playing Sesame Street’s sing-along guessing game, which has the following lyrics:

One of these things is not like the others,

One of these things just doesn’t belong,

Can you tell which thing is not like the others

By the time I finish my song?

When grouped with people like Martin Luther King Jr., the current President of the United States sticks out like a sore thumb. This is because, aside from Trump, the people listed above were all awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. And yet, believe it or not, a man seen by many as the world’s most divisive leader might just end up in the club.

Instead of “lock her up,” the chant of choice at today’s Trump rallies is “Nobel, Nobel.” According to Trump himself, “everyone” is rallying for him to get the award following the hope-inspiring historic meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea. That’s not true. Nevertheless, Trump has been officially nominated by Republican politicians who argue that his “peace through strength” policies and “tireless work” to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula, not to mention the world in general, make him more deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize than every other human being on the planet.

For the record, the denuclearization of North Korea would clearly be a positive outcome, which is why even some of Trump’s critics believe he deserves credit for pressuring North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to negotiate an end to the Korean conflict. We accept and respect other opinions. But we simply do not think Trump’s leadership on the international stage should be deemed something to emulate.

What does the Norwegian Nobel Committee think? Simply put, it is remaining silent about Trump’s real chances while stoking speculation that he is a serious contender.

Noting that Nelson Mandela was jointly given the award with F. W. de Klerk for ending the apartheid regime in South Africa, committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen recently told The New York Times that sainthood wasn’t a requirement when being recognized for positive change.

“Changing your position,” she said, “and being willing to take a different position with the consequences that have happened—that is a contribution to peace.”

Since Trump is no longer playing nuclear chicken by threatening to hit North Korea with a first strike, he certainly appears to have shifted his position. But should changing reckless strategies really be enough to land Trump a Nobel Peace Prize—especially when he appears willing to change positions on anything if he thinks it will serve his personal interests?

Keep in mind that Trump’s leadership in other areas has arguably made the world a much less safe place (at home and abroad). His repeated reluctance to clearly and convincingly condemn neo-Nazi propaganda and violence, for example, provides tacit approval for more hate and deadly conflict.

“If there is any relevance and authority of note remaining in the Nobel Peace Prize today, it stems from past winners who set clear examples of leadership worth recognizing.”

Reiss-Andersen, of course, also insists that controversy over the selection of past Nobel Laureates helps give the prize relevance and authority. And on that front, we argue she is just plain wrong. When it comes to selecting award winners, nobody should ever expect total global consensus. But if there is any relevance and authority of note remaining in the Nobel Peace Prize today, it stems from past winners who set clear examples of leadership worth recognizing.

The first Nobel Peace Prize was jointly issued with little fanfare in 1901 to Jean Henry Dunant and Frédéric Passy. Dunant was being recognized for founding the International Committee of the Red Cross and his role as an originator of the Geneva Convention. Passy, an economist and politician, actively promoted peace and free trade between nations.

In a speech just prior to the announcement of the recipients, Carl Christian Bemer, President of the Norwegian Parliament, noted that Alfred Nobel entrusted Norway with “the important responsibility of awarding the prize, through a committee of five, to the one whose work for peace and for fraternity among nations most deserves it.”

While there is no question that Donald Trump often displays so-called frat-boy behaviour, he and his America First rhetoric clearly do not foster fraternity among nations. If anything, we think Trump stands out for divisive, self-serving, and ego-driven leadership. And that is the last thing that should be deemed worthy today—when the world has yet to recover from the crisis in public- and private-sector leadership that was responsible for the global financial crisis.

Ivey Business School researchers are currently circling the globe speaking with distinguished leaders about the major disruptions putting leadership to the test across the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. The goal is to gain a better understanding of the unique challenges—social, economic, political, and environmental—that threaten global peace and prosperity and make them work to the advantage of business and society. From earlier research conducted by the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership, however, we already know that successfully navigating the age of disruption will require a generation of selfless leaders with balanced character. And while we do not speak for anyone other than ourselves, we believe that putting Donald Trump’s name forward for a Nobel Peace Prize simply waters down the clear examples of good leadership that the world is lucky enough to have.

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