KENNEDY: Roddenberry, Trump and the Enterprise

July 30, 2016

Sheila Suess KennedyWhen the most recent “Star Trek” movie was released during the Republican National Convention, the coincidence presented a stark contrast between the worldviews of Gene Roddenberry, creator of the franchise, and Donald Trump, creator of the GOP’s new “brand,” so prominently on display at the convention.

Roddenberry’s creation has been remarkably durable: several television series and movies, spanning a period of 50 years. I think it is fair to say the appeal of his invention lies in his portrayal of an aspirational humanity; on the starship’s bridge, diverse members of Earth’s population work amicably with a variety of representatives of other planets.

As critics have noted, the values highlighted in Rodenberry’s world are pretty explicit. (The “Roddenberry moral.”) There is respect for difference, for the right of crewmates from other cultures to live according to their beliefs, as 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. (No nation-building by the Federation!)

There is 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 respect for law and recognition of the importance of a legal framework that incorporates and safeguards the moral foundations of society. There is also respect for authority. But authority, in Roddenberry’s world, is earned; it comes from demonstrated competence and superior performance and is expressed with courage, maturity and empathy.

There could hardly be a more dramatic contrast to Roddenberry’s “kumbaya” vision and values than the fear and anger exhibited by Republicans in Cleveland.

In lieu of uplifting messages about America’s potential, there was name-calling and stereotyping. In lieu of respect for differences and an acknowledgment that—as Dick Lugar used to say in a more civil time long past—people of good will can differ, there was behavior more reflective of a third-grade playground.

Respect for science? Speakers denied the scientific consensus on climate change.

Respect for education? The platform attacked the institution of public education, and Trump’s son piled on in his speech.

Respect for the rule of law? Trump has demonstrated a total lack of familiarity with the Constitution and has promised to pursue policies that are patently unconstitutional.

In marked contrast to the multi-ethnic, multi-species bridge of the Enterprise, there was a crowd (often behaving more like a mob) of overwhelmingly white, predominantly older delegates.

Convention speakers tried to mask the extreme divisions in today’s Republican Party by focusing on the one thing they hope can unify them: hatred of the Other. Hatred of Hillary Clinton, of Democrats, of Muslims, of immigrants, of LGBT Americans (there were boos when Trump asserted he would prevent violence against the gay community).

In his long acceptance speech, Trump displayed his own vision of authority: the tough guy who need not (indeed, cannot) display mastery of—or even acquaintance with—the issues at hand; 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 reason.

This is an age of rapid and disorienting change. Many of the issues we face are complicated and highly technical. Our diversity is increasing, and with it the discomfort that comes with unfamiliarity.

In November, we’ll decide what sort of people will confront these challenges. Will we take Roddenberry’s path—or the tribal authoritarianism of Trump?•


Kennedy is a professor of law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. She can be reached at skennedy@ibj.com.


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