Star Trek Beyond the Trump GOP Brand of Crisis

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After four days of the 2016 Republican doom and gloom be afraid be very afraid convention, after Donald Trump’s forever acceptance speech, I needed to transport myself for a while to another world to live in. I took myself to the movies to see “Star Trek Beyond.” It did not disappoint. The movie made me think about the meaning of leadership, the role of popular culture in our perceptions of reality, and how art imitates life and how life imitates art.
This year marks fifty years since the original Star Trek series made its debut on television. Since then, there have been several television series and movies. The current set of movies made for the big screen tell the story of the original crew of the starship Enterprise from before the series begins. Our favorites – Kirk, Spock, Uhuru, Chekov, Sulu, McCoy, and Scotty – are back in fine form. The movie is self-referential in ways that only true trekkers will notice. However, I was delighted by the references that I did find. The new movie maintains the Star Trek brand of excitement with a touch of philosophical thinking. At the very beginning, we see Kirk trying to offer a gift to an alien people who are deeply suspicious of him and of his motives. His encounter with them is as exasperating as are human encounters with Others who do not want diplomacy on any level.
I started to think about Kirk, the leader of the group. He is now and has always been portrayed as a kind of ubermensch, an over much man, a man of superior abilities. He is courageous, with a devil may care elan that allows him the creative force to break the rules when it suits him or when he thinks it is necessary. He is the combination of the cerebral Spock and the emotional McCoy. He is the tip of the spear, the one who is not afraid to take charge.
Our popular culture has given us many such heroes, the man, usually European but not necessarily, who rides in to save the day. Kirk is another iteration of Superman, Batman, the Lone Ranger, Matt Dillon, Bond, James Bond, James West and others. They have a supporting cast of characters, but usually they are the men who will think their way or fight their way out of trouble and save the town, or world from utter destruction. Women find the over man irresistible, and men are always grateful to see him come and display the courage that they lack.
Is this who Donald Trump thinks he is? Or, is his declaration that the United States is in a state of crisis and that he is the only one who can fix the situation cynicism, a carbon copy of the recent movie “Our brand is Crisis”?
In his acceptance speech, Trump said: “Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism of our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.”
In the movie, “Our Brand is Crisis”, Sandra Bullock plays a political strategist employed by an unpopular candidate for president of Bolivia. When she joins the campaign, he is losing badly. She comes to the realization that they cannot change the candidate to fit a particular narrative, rather they have to change the narrative to fit the candidate. The narrative that suits her candidate is one where he is a wartime leader. She says:
“Let me tell you what our little movie is going to be about. Our story is Bolivia is facing the worst period in its turbulent history. We are at a crossroads, and Bolivians face a choice. They have Rivera, a man of no substance, a man of no experience, an everyman opportunist who will stand by and watch as this nation falls apart, or they can choose Castillo. You might not like him, you may think he is an arrogant son-of-a-bitch, but he is a fighter. He has grit. He has experience. He has got balls, and he is the only choice, the only choice to save the day. These are the stakes. We are trying to save people’s lives. Ok, but this is no longer an election. This is a crisis. And, our brand, what we are selling. Crisis.”
In the Trump speech, he tells us that he is the only one who can save us. He says: “I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
Trump also seems to have taken his approach to Hillary Clinton from Calamity Jane Bodine, the strategist that Bullock plays. She tells her staff: “We are going to do something to Rivera that no politician wants to have done to them. We are going to define him. The attack line is that he is a crook. He is corrupt. He’s inexperienced, and he lies. . . . We are going to spoon feed them their Rivera stories. We are going to go through every quote he’s ever given, every person he’s ever met, every vote he’s ever made. And we are going to look for ways of using it against him.”
Trump refers to Clinton as Crooked Hillary, and during the entire GOP convention chants of “Lock her up.” rang through the hall.
One could say that this is the standard playbook for elections all over the world, local and national. However, it is up to us to know when we are being played, had, hoodwinked, bamboozled. As voters, it is our responsibility to read the fact checks to know when candidates are distorting the facts or are just making stuff up. (See:
Clearly Trump wants to portray himself as our hero, our ubermensch, our brave fearless leader who will tell us the unvarnished truth and keep us safe. This is nonsense on steroids. The mythology that one man can save the day is losing ground, even in the movies. A real leader allows everyone a chance to be heroic. This is the meaning of leading from behind as understood by Nelson Mandela. It is clear from “Star Trek Beyond” that the struggle of humanity for survival and I say for sustenance and joy requires all of us to use our particular gifts to save the day.
At the end of the latest telling of the Star Trek saga on the big screen, we hear the familiar mission statement: “Space the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s five-year mission, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” This time the statement is read by more than one voice.
We all have a mission, a responsibility, and a goal to make our politics truthful and respectful and worthy of the people we are and of the people we want to become.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”