If there is one clear message that emerged from the just-concluded political party conventions, it is that, in November, Americans will choose not just between two sets of candidates, but between two very different visions of America and our future.
I’ve always been a fan of science fiction–not “space opera,” but explorations of where mankind might be headed, extrapolations of current trends that raise interesting, even profound, questions about the nature of humanity and society. So the opening of the most recent Star Trek movie prompted me to compare Gene Roddenberry’s vision to the portrayals of America and its future on display at the Republican and Democratic conventions.
Roddenberry’s creation has been remarkably durable: there have been several television series and movies, spanning a period of fifty years. There is a reason for that. His portrayal of a positive future and a mature humanity is immensely appealing.
On the starship’s bridge, diverse members of Earth’s population work amicably with a variety of representatives of other planets. There is respect for difference, for the right of crewmates from other cultures to live according to their beliefs, so long as they respect the Federation’s rules in return. That respect is incorporated in the Prime Directive, which forbids interference with other planetary cultures. (The Federation doesn’t engage in “nation building.”)
There is explicit respect for science, education, and intellectual achievement, and for mankind’s quest to learn—to “seek out” and “go where no one has gone before.”
There is recognition of the importance of a legal framework that safeguards the moral foundations of society and confers authority. But authority, in Roddenberry’s world, does not come from legal status. It is earned by demonstrated competence and superior performance, and is expressed with intelligence, maturity and empathy.
There could hardly be a more dramatic contrast to Roddenberry’s “kumbaya” vision and humanitarian values than the overwhelming fear and anger exhibited by Republicans in Cleveland.
At the Democratic convention, we got optimism and uplifting messages about America’s potential.
In Cleveland, we got name-calling and stereotyping; the values displayed by the GOP at its convention were the antithesis of those championed by Roddenberry.
Respect for science? The GOP not only rejected scientific consensus on climate change, a significant percentage want to replace the theory of evolution with creationism in public school science classes.
Respect for the rule of law? Trump has demonstrated a total lack of familiarity with the Constitution, and has championed policies that are patently unconstitutional. Meanwhile, convention delegates clearly supported Senate Republicans’ refusal to follow the Constitution and “advise and consent” to Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination.
In Cleveland, in marked contrast to the multi-ethnic, multi-species bridge of the Enterprise, a crowd of overwhelmingly white, predominantly older delegates tried to mask the extreme divisions in their party by focusing on the one thing that they hope can unify them: fear and hatred of the Other. Hatred of Hillary Clinton, of Democrats, of Muslims, of immigrants, of LGBTQ Americans.
Throughout the GOP convention, Donald Trump displayed an understanding of “leadership” very different from Roddenberry’s. Trump confuses authoritarianism with earned authority; he’s a “tough guy” who doesn’t bother to display mastery of –or even acquaintance with–the issues at hand, a thug who disdains restraint, nuance and expertise, who proposes to dominate by demanding, rather than earning, respect, and who responds to even the mildest criticism with childish name-calling in lieu of reasoned response.
Jean-Luc Picard he’s not.
At the Democratic convention, speaker after speaker argued for American possibility, and appealed to the “better angels of our nature.” One paragraph of President Obama’s superb speech, in particular, made me think of Roddenberry:
I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, young, old, gay, straight, men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love.
Speakers at the Republican convention, in stark contrast, painted a picture of a dystopia in which our only option is to hunker down, arm ourselves against our fellow-citizens, and barricade America against the rest of the world.
In November, what we will really decide is which of these visions will shape our future.