The idea that Donald Trump deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his strange diplomacy with North Korea is no longer a stray thought from the president of a South Korean client government massively invested in the success of current negotiations, or idle chatter for the smitten MAGA crowd, or the way to drive up the blood pressure of your liberal friends. As is their prerogative as qualified nominators for the prize (under the Nobel Foundation’s procedures), 18 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, all Republicans, have formally offered the name of the 45th president as a worthy recipient of the prize usually reserved for leaders of a more peaceful disposition.
While some proponents of a Peace Prize for Trump have been careful to make the suggestion contingent on what actually happens in the weeks and months ahead (given the rather abundant history of fizzled Korean peace initiatives), these brave 18 lawmakers want to move right ahead, as indicated in the letter from U.S. Republican representative of Indiana Luke Messer, they signed:
“President Trump’s peace through strength policies are working and bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula,” Messer wrote in his letter, “We can think of no one more deserving of the Committee’s recognition in 2019 than President Trump for his tireless work to bring peace to our world.”
You have to assume that any talk of waiting around to see if the peacemaker actually achieved peace would be waved off by Republicans with a so’s-your-old-man reference to Barack Obama’s equally premature Nobel in 2009. Sure, Obama was self-deprecating in accepting his award, while Trump would almost certainly pocket it like an early medieval chieftain accepting tribute from a newly enslaved enemy. But that’s a style point, I suppose, and it’s all in the future.
This rush to judgment on Trump’s behalf becomes more understandable if you look at the collection of House members recommending his apotheosis. Five of them (including chief signatory Luke Messer) are running for higher office this year, and are facing or could face primary contests in which chanting hymns of praise to the president is the way to win or head off “outsider” or right-wing opposition. Others (e.g., Scott DesJarlais, Matt Gaetz, Steve King, Mark Meadows, and Ralph Norman) are known for being positioned somewhere to the right of Jimmy Dean Sausage, and/or for having a screw or two loose. This is not a group that is broadly representative of the American population, unless you think “America” is confined to fans of InfoWars.
There is another rather fundamental problem with the Trump-for-Peace-Prize hypothesis that might inhibit the Nobel Foundation even if things work out relatively well on the Korean peninsula: What kind of precedent does it set to reward a leader whose strategy for peace is to engage not just in brinkmanship, but in militaristic bluster reminiscent of a schoolyard bully? Let’s remember this high moment in Trump’s public diplomacy toward North Korea:
Luke Messer may call this “peace through strength,” but it’s better known by the term Richard Nixon made famous: the “madman theory,” whereby adversaries are frightened into compliance by the credible fear that otherwise missiles will fly. It’s uncomfortably similar, in fact, to the kind of strategy North Korea itself has always pursued. Is this the future of peace? Trump brandishing the Peace Prize like one of the spoils of war could sure make it look that way.