I’m fantasy casting the US government with my favorite sci-fi heroes and the answer seems super clear: Jean Luc Picard is Joseph Robinette Biden and Michael Burnham is Kamala Harris. It’s not just the obvious — their positions as captain/President and first officer/VP, their age, or race (although these things help) — Jean-Luc Picard and Michael Burnham share illuminating parallels with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, from their leadership styles to their reputation.
Now I don’t actually know any of these people — I’m not trying to cast based on their true, innermost selves. I’m talking about their myths, the stories they tell about themselves and the ones we tell about them. Take their values: Faith in humanity. The belief that diversity unleashes our potential. The importance of doing what’s right. That’s what Biden-Harris ran on and what we expect from our Star Fleet leaders. The top-level takeaway is the same.
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The specific stories share a lot too. Think about Picard the series, released pre-pandemic in the early days of 2020. The premise of Picard is nostalgia-based — we’re supposed to reminisce and miss the good ole days of Next Generation when we knew who the heroes were and the problems were equal part intellectual and fixable-by-torpedo. Think the Obama era.
But that’s not where the show takes place. In Picard, the titular character has been driven into retirement because the current leadership neither values his leadership nor shares his overall commitment to those optimistic values. Again, it’s like Biden during the Trump administration. All life as we know it is threatened, so Jean Luc springs into the action as the familiar, good (old and white) man who can save us.
It’s a compelling fantasy. Wouldn’t it be great if heroes like that really were waiting around? President Biden doesn’t claim that he alone can fix our problems, choosing to govern from a more pluralistic posture. But he did run on his character, as a fundamentally decent man while his opponent is anything but. In the debates, how many times did he say, “I’m Joe Biden” or “you know me”? Asserting that his character and reputation speak for themself? It’s like the logline for Picard.
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Vice President Kamala Harris obviously took a different track. She’s a groundbreaking hero, the first woman, the first Black person, and the first person of Southeast Asian descent to ascend to the Vice Presidency. Her symbolic role is mighty and we’re expecting her to wield her institutional power to uplift our communities. You can think of her as Discovery’s Michael Burnham. What makes Burnham such a unique Star Trek protagonist is that she’s not the captain (or not usually). Sometimes she’s second in command, sometimes she’s not (like when she’s a Senator, I mean science officer).
Burnham is a compelling hero because she is both inside and outside the Star Trek system, adhering to its most trusted values even as she occasionally rebels against its bureaucracy. Shortly after we meet her, she is stripped of her rank and must re-earn the trust of her fellow officers. But she’s the one who delivers that speech about what Star Fleet means at the end of season one. In the most recent season, we see this arc again, thanks to the year she spends alone in the future. Again, she’s the one who is most clearly driven to restore the Federation to its previous standing.
VP Harris appears to be doing the same thing for America, showing us what our stated, if not lived, values can really look and feel like — a daughter of Black and brown immigrants in the White House. It’s a compelling story and one that I hope we can be worthy of.
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Now I don’t think Biden-Harris or Star Trek are perfect.
Watching Picard, it was annoying to see how they virtue-signaled towards diversity without actually centering it. This is still a white man’s story — Picard is the hero, Data is the driving force, Riker is the help-when-you-need-it-most. Yes, they filled the new roles with women/POC/WOC, but since the hero spots were taken, the diversity casting just reinforced the old tropes about who gets to be center stage, whose story matters, and who the truly important people are. Also, why the first-ever (to my knowledge) main Star Trek character with a substance abuse problem is a Black woman I will never know. It hurts. I hope the Biden Harris administration isn’t doing the same, filling their staffs and cabinets with women/POC/WOC only to keep the white patriarchal agenda center stage. Time will tell I guess.
And let’s be clear about Discovery — the recently concluded third season is its first actually promising one. The first two were bogged down with lore of Star Trek’s past. You see Burnham is Spock’s long-lost adopted sister. That should position her as Star Trek royalty but instead makes her second fiddle in her own story. It wasn’t until season three when the crew of Discovery jumped into the future that Burnham was allowed to exist and thrive on her own. This is a timeline no other Star Trek show has gotten to yet, allowing Discovery, finally, its own universe and destiny. It’s also where Burnham’s Black mother exists but her adopted Vulcan family (arguably the kindest possible future for WASP cultures) does not. She’s finally her own woman and the show’s anchoring force. Hopefully, the Biden-Harris administration doesn’t make the same mistake. We want our history-making leading ladies to lead from day one. Make it so!
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I’m not really sure that politicians can be heroes. I don’t really think Biden-Harris can save us — as someone wiser than me said, we have to save ourselves. But I do think we need to believe that change is possible to make it so. Perhaps we even need to believe in Star Trek’s optimistic view of humankind to reach anything close to its eutopia. And to that end, I’ll keep watching the franchise, admiring its definition of leadership, and hoping to see real-life leaders embody its ethos. Surely, our leaders sharing Star Trek’s values is a good sign for things to come. And even if it’s not, it does give me some hope. So with that in mind, here’s wishing the Biden-Harris administration lives long and prospers.