Every few months, a liberal on X asks the same question: “Why do conservatives like ‘Star Trek?’”
The popular television series—well known for being left-of-center and utopian—is admired by people on all sides of the political spectrum. Progressives often wonder what conservatives actually like about the show.
This question came up again after Paramount Plus posted an X video for “#TransgenderAwarenessWeek” promoting a transgender character in “Star Trek: Discovery.”
— Paramount+ (@paramountplus) November 17, 2023
The video generated hundreds of comments. Many called the clip “cringe” and said “wokeness” had ruined recent “Star Trek” shows. Progressive “Star Trek” fans fired back, saying they don’t understand why conservatives even watch the show in the first place.
Just searching “Conservative Star Trek Fans” on Twitter draws thousands of comments by leftists mocking conservatives for “not getting” that the show doesn’t agree with them.
“Conservative Star Trek fans are just ridiculous,” says @CodySDax, who subsequently comments, “Sorry the conservatives are angry that I’m politicizing Star Trek…” before threatening to block commenters.
Others added these fans aren’t “smart enough to realize the source material is antithetical to everything they believe,” that conservatives shouldn’t like shows about utopian solutions and kindness, and that “they completely miss the point of the show.”
Many liberals are possessive enough of the show to claim, “You cannot be a conservative ‘Star Trek’ fan.”
The underlying question though is fascinating from a media-consumption and engagement standpoint.
“Star Trek”—in its 13 series (counting “Starfleet Academy”) and 13 films—does lean left and presents a highly idealized vision of the future. Money has been eliminated, enlightenment rationalism is the highest ideal, religion is generally absent, world peace has been achieved and a diverse crew of humans works together in harmony.
Recent shows have also embraced modern progressive ideals, from extensive LGBTQ+ depictions, criticizing the European Union for anti-refugee policies and depicting the Klingons as war-mongering nationalists.
And to be fair, many conservatives actually do dislike “Star Trek” for these thematic reasons.
There have been plenty of critiques of “Star Trek’s” premise, given that it presupposes problematic ideas about the perfectability of man, the possibility of utopianism and that religion and tradition hold humans back.
Classic episodes like “Who Watches The Watchers” and “Who Mourns for Adonais?” are highly critical of organized faith.
However, “Star Trek” remains one of the most beloved franchises of all time, and a significant portion of that fan base is either conservative, religious or both. What do conservatives see in this show that makes its unique viewpoint defensible or relatable to them?
We took this question directly to Hollywood In Toto readers on social media.
— Christian Toto (@HollywoodInToto) November 20, 2023
Hundreds replied, saying they loved the characters, the intelligent writing, the adventurous tone and its rooting in classical art and literature. They praised “Star Trek’s” depiction of “Men of action. Men of reason. Men of medicine. Heroism. Courage. Adventure. Chivalry. Quest for knowledge. Quest for beauty. Quest for wisdom. Exploring the unknown. Respect for the ways of other tribes. [And] high moral code.”
It is clear that many conservatives grew up with the show and have deep nostalgic ties to it. Conservative podcaster Kira Davis responded that she grew up on “Star Trek,” adding, “I always felt like I was on ‘the team’ when I watched the shows.”
Many even went as far as to defend the show as being nominally conservative. “The original Star Trek at its core was a western in space as some TV exec snidely told Roddenberry. But that was a strength. It was about heroics. Facing down an enemy,” says @JimRoseAF.
“There is some Conservatism in Star Trek. Star Fleet as an institution is driven by the Declarations’ natural rights. [Neither] Kirk nor Picard are determinists. Unlike teacher’s unions, they promote by merit, not seniority,” says @BelAves.
User @HoldTheWire1945 claims the show’s politics were never particularly heavy-handed to the point where it was unbearable to watch as someone who disagrees with it.
A handful of commenters spoke out against the show, calling conservative fans “masochists” and decrying its series creator’s “secular hedonism.” Most comments praised “Star Trek: The Original Series,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and a few even praised elements of recent shows.
While the older series certainly were generally liberal in their handling of Civil Rights and religion, they were rarely overtly hostile. The shows mostly depict a post-scarcity world that is highly in tune with classical liberal ideals of human dignity and natural rights.
They even go out of their way to criticize collectivism and communism as hostile and anti-human philosophies—ideas that conservatives are largely sympathetic to.
The show was progressive for the 1960’s but actually quite conservative for 2023. Spock’s logic was never perfect, he was a human as any other character on the show, I mean if you actually watched Star Trek.
In any case, my profile pic captures the best side of Spock. pic.twitter.com/ituYbO88dH
— Fusilli Spock (@awstar11) May 14, 2023
The exact politics of classic “Star Trek” don’t necessarily map cleanly onto partisan politics, but Claremont Review’s Timothy Sandefur argues that they align with the optimistic liberalism of John F. Kennedy. The leader’s hawkish anti-communism is widely regarded by modern Republicans, while also being fairly disinterested in 1960s counter-culture.
The show also states that Republican President Abraham Lincoln is Captain Kirk’s hero and depicts him as a similarly headstrong and moralistic leader. Maybe it’s not surprising that the show would become less appealing to conservatives the more it embraced moral relativism over time.
Conservative political commentator Bill Whittle, arguably the biggest “Star Trek” fan in the Republican Party, says the show is quintessentially pro-American.
“The bridge of the USS Enterprise; this is America right here–multicultural, multi-racial, the product of a federation based upon individuality, freedom, and human dignity. And like Captain Hornblower, who represented Great Britain [in his popular and influential book series and that influenced Roddenberry], the man in the command chair was the federation. And that meant that Kirk was the idealized American—sure of himself and his civilization, intelligent and friendly, but with a spine of steel. A man that not only likes to win but lives to win; a whole man, unbroken, confident, and secure.”
It doesn’t take much to see why conservatives admire “Star Trek,” even if they don’t approve of everything it says. And yet, leftists are still left scratching their heads as to why.
They don’t understand conservative “Star Trek” fans because they don’t grasp conservatives as people.
Like Spock, let’s consult the science.
As social scientist Jonathan Haidt notes in his book. “The Righteous Mind,” there is a massive divide of mutual understanding between conservatives and progressives.
“In a study I did with Jesse Graham and Brian Nosek, we tested how well liberals and conservatives could understand each other,” says Haidt. “Who was best able to pretend to be the other? The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as very liberal.”
Conservatives have lived in a progressive media landscape for more than 50 years. We watch leftist shows, listen to leftist music and read left-leaning news sources.
Our media consumption habits are broader than those on the Left, and we’ve grown used to engaging with liberal ideas and understanding the motivations and logic behind what progressives believe.
Is it any wonder progressives can’t understand how conservatives think when they’re used to their entertainment fully agreeing with them at all times? They want “Star Trek” to be transgressive to society’s values—conservative values—and they can’t see why we like it in spite of their best efforts.
Tyler Hummel is a Nashville-based freelance critic and journalist, a member of the Music City Film Critics Association and the 2021 College Fix Fellow at Main Street Nashville.