A Nobel Peace Prize for Donald Trump?

It might inhibit him from making war.

Posted May 16, 2018

I want to be clear, right up front: In my opinion, not only is Donald Trump undeserving of a Nobel Peace Prize, but I literally cannot think of any human being who is less suitable. Absolutely no one. And yet, I recommend a vigorous campaign nominating him for a Nobel, or at least, claiming that he is a viable candidate, and taking every opportunity to maintain that this particular honor is within his reach.

Why this hypocrisy? Precisely because Mr. Trump is so dangerous to world peace and security. And also because he is so narcissistic that he is likely to believe that he might actually be a viable candidate. The idea is that by dangling this possibility, it just might get him to modify his own inclinations in a way that could save the planet. It isn’t clear to me that as a general proposition, the ends never, ever justify the means; in this case, the potential end-point of preventing nuclear war would seem to readily justify a bit of hyperbolic misrepresentation. After all, becoming a mass-murderer probably wouldn't enhance his Nobel prospects. 

It is widely acknowledged that White House staffers routinely influence their boss’s behavior by curating the information provided to him, including placing reports on his favorite television shows, notably but not exclusively, Fox & Friends. Moreover, it is also common knowledge that foreign governments have learned to manipulate him by playing to his insatiable need for and susceptibility to fawning adulation.

Many responsible observers have noted that – despite, or perhaps even because of their scheduled meeting – the current confrontation between Trump and Kim carries with it a risk of nuclear war that is greater than at any time during the Cold War, excepting the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the Able Archer near-miss of 1983. Despite hyperventilating fear-mongering about Kim’s nuclear threat to the US (most flagrantly by Trump himself) it is almost certain that the North Korean dictator is not so deranged or suicidal as to intend a first strike. By contrast, Trump’s personal characteristics are such as to raise a substantial possibility that if the proposed summit happens at all (far from a sure thing), goes badly (very likely), or if Trump’s political situation deteriorates (also likely) so as to make a “wag the dog” scenario attractive to him, then regardless of the consequences for everyone else, he just might attempt a “bloody nose” attack or even all-out nuclear annihilation of the North. Given Mr. Trump’s recently installed “war cabinet” of super-hawks John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, little in-house inhibition can be anticipated. And given Mr. Kim’s carefully nurtured capacity for retaliation, both nuclear and conventional, the outcome would not be good.

If they haven’t already done so, readers can readily inform themselves via The New York Times and The New Yorker, among other radical fake news sources, as to Mr. Trump’s intellectual, emotional and ethical qualities, and how they threaten to play into our currently worrisome situation. In view of Psychology Today’s policy regarding overtly critical commentary on Donald Trump, as well as the fact that by now pretty much everyone has already made us his/her mind, I shall not dilate upon these things ... much as I am tempted.

Do I really think that Trump will be influenced by a campaign representing him as a potential recipient of the world’s most coveted encomium? Yes, I do. Bear in mind that this is a man who – despite all evidence to the contrary – describes himself as a “very stable genius,” and who leaps at every opportunity for self-aggrandizement and public preening. Even his recent decisions to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, along with moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – either of which to most objective observers would seem to be a guaranteed rule-out for any Nobel consideration – are perceived differently by Mr. Trump himself, who has described these actions as demonstrable proofs of his ardent pursuit of peace.

The likelihood, alas, is that the prospect of nuclear devastation is unlikely in itself to figure prominently when it comes to staying his hand, so long as such catastrophe does not impinge directly upon himself. But it is equally likely – or at least, possible – that the allure of maybe, just maybe, going to Oslo someday to confirm his place among the pantheon of the world's greatest, widely acknowledged global heroes, thereby catering to his unquenchable need for affirmation, might induce Mr. Trump to inhibit himself from being even more disastrous than he has already been.

David P. Barash is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington. His most recent book, Through a Glass Brightly: using science to see our species as we really are, will be published summer 2018 by Oxford University Press.