The New York Times Magazine ran an interview with Ted Cruz yesterday. It’s an interview to promote his new book, but he segues into pop culture — Spider-Man, Star Wars, and Star Trek. While it’s interesting to read a sitting United States Senator talk about Darth Vader, it’s his Star Trek comments that have garnered the most attention:
Let me do a little psychoanalysis. If you look at Star Trek: The Next Generation, it basically split James T. Kirk into two people. Picard was Kirk’s rational side, and William Riker was his passionate side. I prefer a complete captain. To be effective, you need both heart and mind.
The original Star Trek was grittier. Kirk is working class; Picard is an aristocrat. Kirk is a passionate fighter for justice; Picard is a cerebral philosopher. The original Star Trek pressed for racial equality, which was one of its best characteristics, but it did so without sermonizing.
I think it is quite likely that Kirk is a Republican and Picard is a Democrat.
It’s the last thing that Cruz said — “I think is is quite likely that Kirk is a Republican and Picard is a Democrat” — that has seen the most commentary. People from William Shatner to Brannon Braga to the Washington Post have weighed in and said that Cruz is wrong about Captain Kirk’s politics. The more I think about what Cruz said — and I’ve read the whole quote — I’m not convinced that he’s entirely wrong.
A caveat. It’s impossible to compare Star Trek‘s future to the present. For one thing, Star Trek is fiction. For another, it’s not self-consistent; the Star Trek universe is what a writer needed it to be in a particular week. In general, Star Trek shows us a post-scarcity, post-religious future that doesn’t model to any historical human society. There’s apparently no economic inequality in the 23rd-century. People aren’t killing one another over trivial religious reasons. No one is going bankrupt because of health care, nor is anyone dying because they can’t access the health care system. Nor is there hunger or poverty. Quite simply, the political issues of today have no analogue in the Star Trek future.
That said, I could believe that Kirk is an Eisenhower Republican. Or a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. He might even have supported Ford. But he’d have broken with Goldwater and Reagan, and he would have been savage to Bush the Younger over Iraq. Kirk would have supported the Republicans who built the Interstate Highway System and passed civil rights legislation. He would not have supported the militarism of Goldwater or Reagan, and George Bush’s war of choice would have been anathema.
Kirk wouldn’t support any of the Republicans in the presidential clown car, nor would he support the Republicans in Congress, nor would he have much time for the reactionary, nativist, and evangelical Republican base of today. These groups represent the very sort of monolithic and dangerous thinking that Kirk went around the galaxy kicking over whenever he had the chance. He would probably wonder where the Republicans are keeping Landru.
There are periods when Kirk’s ideology aligned with that of the Republican Party and it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to call Kirk a Republican. This, however, is not one of those times.