Trekkie—OK, and President—Barack Obama on Why Star Trek Is So Important
Barack Obama is, unquestionably, a Star Trek fan. Given the chance to take a photo with the original Lieutenant Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, the president will raise a Vulcan salute and flash a smile befitting a visiting dignitary. He did the same upon meeting Leonard Nimoy, and when the actor passed away last year, Obama eulogized him by saying “I loved Spock.”
Yes, Obama, who was the guest editor for our November issue, spent his childhood watching and re-watching Star Trek. But for the leader of the free world, his fandom goes beyond unbridled enthusiasm for gadgets and space travel. As he said in an interview with Editor-in-Chief Scott Dadich and MIT’s Joi Ito, Star Trek is more than a story of intergalactic adventure. It “was really talking about a notion of a common humanity and a confidence in our ability to solve problems.”
As much as Star Trek was about space travel and futuristic world-building and intergalactic domination, it celebrated curiosity and teamwork—values that inform innovative exploration from the Enterprise to NASA to Silicon Valley. “What made the show lasting was it wasn’t actually about technology,” Obama says. “It was about values and relationships.”
As Obama sees it, approaching the unknown with resourcefulness and discipline and optimism is what made Star Trek so good—and what makes America great, too. “That is what I love most about America … that spirit of ‘oh, we can figure this out,'” he says. “If we ever lose that spirit, then we’re gonna lose what is essential about America and what I think is essential about being human.”
Like the crew of the Enterprise, America combines logic, emotion, optimism, and practicality. “Part of figuring it out is being able to work across barriers and differences,” Obama says, articulating a vision of the US that is especially compelling during this election cycle. “There’s a certain faith in rationality, tempered by some humility.”
After all, says the president, “We’ve all got a little bit of Spock and a little bit of Kirk and a little bit of Scotty, maybe some Klingon in us, right?” If we can use our differences to approach the future with America’s inimitable brand of capable optimism, Obama believes, we just might live long and prosper.