What Do Nobel Laureates Think of President Trump?

Audrey McNamara
Mandel Ngan/Getty

President Trump has made no secret of his infatuation with the Nobel Peace Prize. True to form, he’s repeatedly declared that he’s deserving of the prestigious honor, and has claimed the Nobel committee—a five person panel appointed by the Norwegian parliament—is rigged against him. 

“I think I’m gonna get a Nobel Prize for a lot of things—if they gave it out fairly, which they don’t,” Trump said at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City this year. 

Trump has now been in office for nearly three years, and still has yet to receive the prize, while former President Barack Obama won it within nine months of taking office. This year’s winner will be announced at 11 a.m. Friday at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, and streamed live on their website at 5 a.m. EST.

Trump has argued that he deserves the prize for his efforts to open communication with North Korea and denuclearize the hermit nation, a commendable goal that has so far been unsuccessful despite multiple summits with the North Korean leader. 

While he’s insisted “they probably will never give” the award to him, Trump has been nominated by two Norwegian lawmakers, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is rumored to have sent the Nobel Committee a sparkling nomination letter on Trump’s behalf.

“We have nominated him of course for the positive developments on the Korean Peninsula,” Per-Willy Amundsen, a former right-wing Norweigian Justice Minister told Reuters in February. “It has been a very difficult situation and the tensions have since lowered and a lot of it is due to Trump’s unconventional diplomatic style.”

In Trump’s dogged pursuit of things with his name on them, the Nobel Peace Prize would provide him with abiding bragging rights. Past winners, however, may not welcome him with open arms. Since entering the White House, the world’s greatest peace-makers have often found discord with the leader of the free world. 

Malala Yousafzai

Yousafzai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, has been a frequent critic of President Trump’s policies. She first gained international attention after being shot in the head for going to school in her native Pakistan, defying a Taliban ban on girls receiving education. Yousafzai miraculously survived and used her recognition to advocate for women’s rights around the world.

As a champion for gender equality, Yousafzai was first asked about Trump in reaction to the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against the president. She told a crowd at the World Economic Forum last year that she was “so disappointed to see that people in high positions talk about women in unequal terms and do not accept them as equals,” adding that “it is just shocking for a second to believe that this is actually happening…  I hope that women stand up and speak out against it.”

Yousafzai has also addressed the president’s travel ban on Muslim majority countries, as well as his policies at the Mexican border. “I was deeply hurt,” Yousafzai said of the travel ban in 2017. “Because I’m a Muslim, and to me it just seemed like directly blaming Muslims, and that is not a solution, that is just making an excuse and hiding from the real problems.”

A year later, she spoke out against the Trump administration’s child-separation policy. “This is cruel, this is unfair and this is inhumane. I don’t know how anyone could do that,” Yousafzai said during a visit to South America. “I hope that the children can be together with their parents.”

Nadia Murad

Trump has actually met the most recent Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

During a meeting with survivors of religious persecution at the White House in July, Trump listened to Nadia Murad recall how her family was murdered by ISIS, and how she was taken captive by the group. After her escape, she has tirelessly spread the word about the horrific crimes committed against her people by ISIS. 

Despite claiming to have defeated ISIS, Trump appeared to be unfamiliar with Murad’s story, asking her why she was awarded the Nobel Prize that he covets. “They gave it to you for what reason?” Trump asked Murad. “For what reason?” she responded, appearing confused. “For that after all this happen to me, I can—I make it clear to everyone that ISIS raped thousands of Yazidi women.”

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Barack Obama

The former president won the Nobel Prize in 2009 for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people.” Since leaving office, Obama has largely stayed out of the limelight, occasionally resurfacing to condemn comments or policies by Trump. 

During a particularly fiery speech in September last year ahead of the primary elections, Obama spoke to the racist divides in America that his successor has reignited. “Over the past few decades the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party,” Obama said. “We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination. And we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be?”

Obama then called out Trump by name. “It did not start with Donald Trump, he is a symptom not the cause… he’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.”

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Juan Manuel Santos

Juan Manuel Santos, the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former president of Colombia, has been diplomatic in his statements regarding President Trump. Santos won the award for orchestrating a historic peace agreement in his country with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army, a violent rebel group that generated decades of conflict in Colombia.

Santos, who has experience dealing with dangerous adversaries, acknowledged that Trump has used “bold moves” to establish personal relationships with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. “It’s extremely important. Leaders are human beings and if they have good chemistry, and some kind of empathy, that makes negotiations much easier.” But said he believes that “much more can and should happen.” “So far, superficial messages have been sent to the world but real progress, one doesn’t see it,” Santos said of Trump. “We need to see more complete progress.” 

Jimmy Carter

Former President Jimmy Carter, who won the prize in 2002 for his lifelong commitment to humanitarian causes, has also acknowledged Trump’s work to bring peace to the Korean peninsula.  

“If President Trump is successful in getting a peace treaty that’s acceptable to both sides with North Korea, I think he certainly ought to be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize,” the former president told Politico last year. “I think it would be a worthy and a momentous accomplishment that no previous president has been able to realize.”

Carter is not withholding in his criticism of Trump, and couched his tentative praise by noting that Trump has already dealt “a damaging blow” to world peace by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and generally failing to inspire morality in his leadership.

When a president does not embody the ideals of a moral leader, “it makes us much more likely to treat people differently, and to discriminate against either African-Americans or others who are different…  I think it’s probably more difficult to elevate human rights to a top priority, and things like peace and justice,” Carter said.

David Trimble

David Trimble, the former first minister of Northern Ireland who played a major role in negotiating the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to the region, and won him the Nobel Peace Prize that same year, has offered a matter-of-fact take on Trump’s potential win.

“Trump is going to do what he wants to do and what he thinks is best. And the Norwegian Nobel Committee acts on the basis of the nominations it receives. Some who deserve it never win,” Trimble said. “... It’s important to remember that (with regards to North Korea) it is not just a matter of saying nice things but applying pressure. And it is better if it’s done in a way that does as little damage as possible.”

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