The first thing I did when I exited my screening of Star Trek Beyond last night wasn’t check my email, or browse Twitter, or even passive-aggressively look at Facebook. Before anything else, I texted my mom. I didn’t expect a response — it was nearly 11 p.m. her time when I left the theater — but I’m a Star Trek fan because of her. If she hadn’t watched the shows, purchased the movies on VHS, or read the books when I was young, I would have never learned to love the voyages of the USS Enterprise. (You don’t choose to be a fan of Star Trek; it’s chosen for you.) I certainly wouldn’t have a bought to ticket to see Beyond — a movie that seems to be immune to buzz, despite extremely positive reviews — on opening night, surrounded by other Trek fans in Spock shirts and Starfleet pins. I felt like I owed her the text. Star Trek has brought so much joy to my life, and although it’s only a silly science-fiction franchise, I think my mom is happy that she passed something down to me.
So, I was feeling good when I returned home after the movie, which, for the record, I really enjoyed. (It’s basically Fast Five in space, an entertaining mix of action and characters who deeply care for each other.) Then I went on Twitter, and all that optimism — that the reboots had rebounded after the disastrous Into Darkness, that my mom and I would have a fun time ranking the films, that although Sulu and his husband didn’t kiss, at least there was a prominent gay character — vanished. Donald Trump was trending.
Trump, a former reality show host with the looks of an M-113 creature, accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland. That doesn’t mean he’s going to sit in America’s proverbial captain’s chair (he still has Hillary Clinton, who has a not-insignificant lead in the polls, to deal with), but Trump has gotten much further than anyone expected. You think that’s scary? Get a load of his speech. Trump painted a “dark, frightening portrait of America,” with special attention paid to “crimes committed by illegal immigrants [and] blaming the rise of ISIS and other problems on Hillary Clinton and Democratic President Barack Obama.” The loaded word “threat” came out of his mouth multiple times, and he claimed that “America is far less safe — and the world is far less stable — than when Obama made the decision to put Hillary Clinton in charge of America’s foreign policy.” Basically, this once great country of ours is f*cked, unless we elect Trump as our overlord.
This was a jarring transition from Star Trek Beyond, to say the least.
Prior to my showing at the Alamo Drafthouse, a pair of employees dressed in yellow and red Starfleet uniforms (guess who pretended to die) invited two super-fans down for a quick round of trivia. Before the questions, though, the Alamo staffers asked the two contestants to explain what they loved about Star Trek. They both had approximately the same response: the characters, and the positivity. I was initially drawn to The Original Series because of my mom, yes, but also the bright colors and enjoyably cheesy missions. (The episode with the Gorn was an early favorite.) Eventually, I learned to love not only Star Trek, but also Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and to a lesser extent, Star Trek: Enterprise, because of the optimism. There’s always the sense that things are going to work out, not only because if Kirk dies, that’s the end of the show, but because Star Trek has a refreshingly hopeful expectation of the future. We’ve moved past petty tiffs; humans are a united front. Or in the words of Picard in First Contact, “We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”
Star Trek Beyond nicely reinforces creator Gene Roddenberry’s belief, that “if man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.” The movie’s big bad, Krall (played by Idris Elba), thinks that “unity is not your strength.” Kirk’s response: “I think you’re underestimating humanity.” Krall and Trump have a lot in common, actually. Instead of teaching togetherness, they preach discontent. There’s us and there’s you, and never the twain shall meet. It’s an antagonistic outlook on life, and that anger rears its ugly head in the form of what happened in Dallas and Baton Rogue, and to Freddie Gray and Charles Kinsey. To Trump, the unknown isn’t something to be discovered; it’s something to be feared.
After the Orlando nightclub shooting that left 49 dead, Trump tweeted: “Horrific incident in FL. Praying for all the victims & their families. When will this stop? When will we get tough, smart, & vigilant?” He later added: “Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism? If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!” Trump’s solution to this horrific event wasn’t to use his unfathomable influence to “keep guns like the ones used last night out of the hands of terrorists or other violent criminals,” to quote Clinton — it was to double down on the violence.
If you’re a rational person, that kind of solution-ignoring threat is terrifying. If you’re not, you’re part of the “56% of voters [who] say they are more likely to vote for The Donald after watching his speech,” despite his words being “hate-filled, angry, and fear-mongering.” The closer we get to the time period Star Trek takes place in (47 years until First Contact!), the further we are from Roddenberry’s vision of a utopian Federation.
I’m not naive enough to think war will become extinct (violence is an occasional necessity), but we can improve and get closer to achieving harmony. The Enterprise embraced racial unity at a time that was anything but diverse; 50 years later, one of the two people who will be our next president wants to keep “rapist” Mexicans and Muslims out of the country. (It’s not just Trump, either — he just so happens to be the poster child of something ugly that’s getting warmer and nearly ready to boil in the United States. If/when it happens, it’s not going to be pretty. Hello, Canada.)
On the National Geographic Channel show StarTalk, Bill Nye, your friendly neighborhood science guy, explained why he’s always been drawn to Star Trek. “Science-fiction is based on science… and imagination,” he said. “But right now, as an observer of the human condition, it looks to me that almost all of our science-fiction is apocalyptic. It’s about a future for humankind that kind of sucks. But in Star Trek, it’s not like that. It’s never like that. In all the versions of Star Trek, the future for humankind is optimistic.” Why wait until the future? We can do better now. In the wise words of Spock, “Change is the essential process of all existence.” Make humanity great again? Make it so.