Press "Enter" to skip to content

Obama: Star Trek Shows Fundamental American Values

I love our President. He is such a nerd.

In a White House interview about science and technology with Wired‘s Scott Dadich and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito, President Obama invokes Star Trek and The Martian to talk about the fundamental American belief in our “common humanity” and “our ability to solve problems”:

DADICH: I understand you’re a Star Trek fan. That was a show inspired by a utopian view of technology—what about it shaped your vision of the future?

OBAMA: I was a sucker for Star Trek when I was a kid. They were always fun to watch. What made the show lasting was it wasn’t actu­ally about technology. It was about values and relationships. Which is why it didn’t matter that the special effects were kind of cheesy and bad, right? They’d land on a planet and there are all these papier-mâché boulders. [Laughs.] But it didn’t matter because it was really talking about a notion of a common humanity and a confidence in our ability to solve problems.

A recent movie captured the same spirit—The Martian. Not because it had a hugely complicated plot, but because it showed a bunch of different people trying to solve a problem. And employing creativity and grit and hard work, and having confidence that if it’s out there, we can figure it out. That is what I love most about America and why it continues to attract people from all around the world for all of the challenges that we face, that spirit of “Oh, we can figure this out.” And what I value most about science is this notion that we can figure this out. Well, we’re gonna try this—if it doesn’t work, we’re gonna figure out why it didn’t work and then we’re gonna try something else. And we will revel in our mistakes, because that is gonna teach us how to ultimately crack the code on the thing that we’re trying to solve. And 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.

ITO: I totally agree—I love the optimism of Star Trek. But I also think the Federation is amazingly diverse, the crew is diverse, and the bad guys aren’t usually evil—they’re just misguided.

Vulcan ObamaOBAMA:Star Trek, like any good story, says that we’re all complicated, and we’ve all got a little bit of Spock and a little bit of Kirk [laughs] and a little bit of Scotty, maybe some Klingon in us, right? But that is what I mean about figuring it out. Part of figuring it out is being able to work across barriers and differences. There’s a certain faith in rationality, tempered by some humility. Which is true of the best art and true of the best science. The sense that we possess these incredible minds that we should use, and we’re still just scratching the surface, but we shouldn’t get too cocky. We should remind ourselves that there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know [Scott Dadich, “Barack Obama, Neural Nets, Self-Driving Cards, and the Future of the World,” Wired, 2016.10.11].

President Obama flows from Star Trek to Socratic wisdom. President Obama is my kind of nerd.


  1. Porter Lansing 2016-10-15 11:48

    Does it seem Republicans are dedicated to “figuring it out” or are they dedicated to “NO” “You’re just spending other people’s money.”? The reddest states are the states where nothing gets done. I’ve asked this before and not gotten any takers. What have you Republicans built in South Dakota that will last for a hundred years? Everything worthwhile has come from Washington. Interstate highways, Mt. Rushmore, Oahe Dam, shelter belts, erosion controls, clean water, migratory waterfoul conservation. Is taxing the voters and sitting on the money really something to be proud of?

  2. Jeff Barth 2016-10-15 11:51

    Heartfelt thanks to President Obama and Star Trek for the inspiration they have given us.

  3. happy camper 2016-10-15 12:39

    Obama seems decent but it’s hard when you have to lie down with dogs that ain’t gonna change. Hillary on the other hand is part of the pack.

  4. Porter Lansing 2016-10-15 12:46

    HC … You are one depressing, negative spot on every blog post. Just for information, has there ever been a President or elected official you don’t dislike? I’m thinkin’, “Not really, if you told the whole truth.”

  5. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr. 2016-10-15 13:15

    And Leonard Nimoy once thanked President Kennedy for the success of his performance as Dr. Spock on Star Trek… and how could there have ever been a Star Trek without the Doc?

    Kennedy not only put a man on the moon, but he also helped to promote our fundamental values and inspire a future American president….

  6. happy camper 2016-10-15 14:24

    Nichelle Nichols wanted to bail after season one but Martin Luther King told her not to, that he was a huge Star Trek fan and that she was doing too much good in her portrayal of Uhura which was inspirational because her role had nothing to do with color, the first time a black person appeared that way on television, so she stayed. The reality of politics however is not a tv show, in fact that’s what’s wrong, that the partisans are foolishly overjoyed when their side is winning even though our two party system is failing us. In the same vein as Obama Jimmy Carter seems like a pretty good man but we don’t know these people any more than we knew Bill Cosby. They’re not your dad, your uncle, or your mother. If some good policies get put in place, fine, that’s about all we should expect and come to grip most at this level have already sold their souls. Sanders seemed pretty decent too although his policies were largely unsupportable. Why some people are almost in love or actually in love with their candidate is very strange. They’re just politicians not your family.

  7. Roger Cornelius 2016-10-15 17:41

    In the same vein, I don’t know Happy Camper, at least President Obama and Hillary are people we recognize and can learn from, Happy Camper hides behind an anonymous name and therefore has zero credibility.

  8. LS 2016-10-15 18:50

    Roger Cornelius, that is the lamest argument ever. It makes you sound very Republican. Anonymous political speech is protected by the Constitution and has played a huge role in American political history. See the Federalist Papers as one example. Happy Camper may have zero credibility to you. But I am willing to consider their point of view.

  9. Don Coyote 2016-10-15 19:14

    Just goes to show how shallow a mind Obama has. Star Trek philosophobabble is at best warmed over utilitarianism; in actually it is nothing more than a crummy western based in space. Roddenberry was a hack writer and is a dark stain on the science fiction genre.

  10. Roger Cornelius 2016-10-15 19:23

    Me sound like a republican, bite me!

    Let me get this right, you say my comment is the lamest argue ever, but the anonymous happy camper’s point of view should be considered?

    Don’t give me the First Amendment crap, I most likely know the Constitution better than you.

    The Federalist Papers make for nice reading, but do not have the force of law, or didn’t you know that?

  11. mike from iowa 2016-10-15 19:24

    Coyote, is there anyone, anywhere you do approve of?

  12. Roger Cornelius 2016-10-15 19:25

    Roddenberry is crying all the way to the bank, coyote.

  13. mike from iowa 2016-10-15 19:32

    A Pol people love, revere and saints be praised-wanna make a saint out of-

    “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.”

    Saint Ronnie Raygun.
    There is still time to exhume and impeach this SOB!

  14. mike from iowa 2016-10-15 19:33

    Impeach me? At least I didn’t lie about having sex with Monica Lewinski.

  15. owen reitzel 2016-10-15 19:34

    Obama is shallow-minded Don? Really? Good to have a President with his perspective.
    I’m assuming you support Trump and it’s been proven what kind of mind Trump has.

    Star Trek was one of the most innovated show that there was and Roddenberry was a great writer.
    Maybe you show actually watch the show

  16. LS 2016-10-15 19:53

    Roger Corenelius, it seemed like a fair comparison since Happy Camper’s words don’t carry the force of law either. Statements like this: “Don’t give me any of the 1st Amendment crap, I likely know the Constitution better than you” sounds so Republican, I can’t believe you don’t see it. Oh well, don’t like my opinion, then go bite yourself!

    And just so we are straight, I’d give Happy Campers words a ton more weight than your silly speech.

  17. Porter Lansing 2016-10-15 20:10

    Merkel, May and Clinton vs Putin? … I’ll take our team.

  18. Roger Cornelius 2016-10-15 20:13

    No I don’t get it, LS.
    What has being critical of cowardly anonymous posters have to do with being a republican or democrat.
    “And just so we are straight, I’d give Happy Camper’s word a ton more weight than your silly speech”, says one anonymous poster to another.

  19. Roger Cornelius 2016-10-15 20:16

    There was a movie out a few years ago called ‘Sleeping With the Enemy”, must have starred Putin and Trump.

  20. JonD 2016-10-15 20:18

    This is the most inspiring, uplifting and insightful post I have seen anywhere for longer than I can recall. Please, everyone, please, can we just this once not turn it into merely another brainless feces-flinging match?

  21. Leo 2016-10-15 20:52

    Common humanity? Oh, that is why Pres. Obama fought so hard for the public option (would have saved us a lot of trouble politically and no doubt many American lives!). Easy to say now right before his big payoff for trying to slip in the wildly unpopular TPP in a lame duck session. I’ll take the “common humanity” of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein anyday who both oppose the TPP and want Universal healthcare coverage.

  22. Leo 2016-10-15 20:56

    Funny, I remember everyone on the USS Enterprise got to go see Dr. McCoy when they needed medical care – he was the real deal!

  23. Don Coyote 2016-10-15 22:02

    @Owen Reitzel: “Maybe you show actually watch the show”

    I was in 8th or 9th grade when the show first came on. I watched it and found it only marginally better than “Lost in Space” which was on about the same time and had been stolen from the comic book “Swiss Family Robinson” (loved that comic book). I’d even say the comic exhibited better writing skills, plot development and character development than Gene Roddenberry could ever dream of.

    I’ve always loved sci-fi; as a kid and as an adult. Robert Heinlein, Isaac Assimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick, Larry Niven, Philip Jose Farmer, Ursula K. Le Guin, Tolkien, all the greats. Gene Roddenberry? Save me from his trash.

  24. owen reitzel 2016-10-15 22:05

    I guess that is your opinion Don and I’ll respect that.

    I happened to enjoy it even today. I’ll have to disagree with you.

    The other writers were great as well.

  25. Steve Sanchez 2016-10-15 23:04


  26. Leo 2016-10-15 23:16

    Why do you find them interesting Steve? Do these positions sound new to you?

  27. Leo 2016-10-15 23:29

    Clinton, Trump, Johnson all anti-environment and pro-corporate! We’re screwed.

  28. Steve Sanchez 2016-10-15 23:29

    The spin that’s about to come from all the long-time HRC supporters will be interesting, Leo. Of course, many have already cast their votes. At this point, HRC could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody. She still wouldn’t lose their votes. Interesting, isn’t it?

  29. Leo 2016-10-15 23:59

    The Republicans won’t support Trump, but they will vote for him. The Democrats don’t want to vote for Clinton, but they will. Democracy has been good while it lasted. Thank you RNC/DNC and the Commission of Presidential Debates! To paraphrase George Carlin, it is all ONE big club, and we aren’t in it.

  30. mike from iowa 2016-10-16 07:35

    Leo. Of course, many have already cast their votes. At this point, HRC could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody. She still wouldn’t lose their votes. Interesting, isn’t it?

    Duh, once your vote is sent in you can’t change it and you can’t un-vote. Didn’t Fake Noize ever explain the facts of life to you wingnuts? Maybe if you got real truthiness from Cory you wouldn’t be so far behind the curve of reality, Bud.

  31. Leo 2016-10-16 08:53

    Mike, I didn’t vote yet.

  32. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-16 09:05

    Coyote, what you dismiss as philosobabble actually touches on deep American values. Pop culture, for all of its flaws, doesn’t become popular just because it is fluff. People dig Star Trek and other shows and movies and books and what-have-you because they speak to our values and our aspirations.

    Read the article again: President Obama himself recognizes and laughs at the cheesiness of Star Trek (papier-mâché boulders—ha!) and still can recognize the values underneath chintzy production values.

  33. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-16 09:12

    For what it’s worth, I love Asimov’s Foundation series. I treasure the Three Laws of Robotics. One of the most moving scenes I can recall from all the books I’ve read is R. Daneel Olivaw’s near-collapse in reaction to the death of Elijah Baley in Robots and Empire. Reviewing Asimov’s work, I can recognize simplistic, even juvenile escapist writing, fluff with hyperspace and blasters. Yet I still find value in his work.

    I can also find value in this quote from Asimov: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”

    Coyote repudiates Asimov in 5… 4… 3….

  34. happy camper 2016-10-16 09:45

    “Pop culture, for all of its flaws, doesn’t become popular just because it is fluff.” Star Trek successfully appealed to a pretty wide audience, but there’s also Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

    Fun fact: Patrick Stewart thought Star Trek The Next Generation was going to be a huge failure and didn’t unpack his suitcase for weeks!

  35. Leo 2016-10-16 10:15

    The highly-educated financial nerds on Wall Street were so intelligent that they figured out how to crash our economy, put millions of American lives in jeopardy, and then make off with bundles of cash and not get prosecuted for it. I prefer wise and just people.

  36. happy camper 2016-10-16 11:16

    How about Hillary’s “private position” on fracking? From article: In one excerpt of a speech to Deutsche Bank in April 2013, according to the document, Clinton boasted about the federal government’s support for fracking and her own work to promote the process across the globe.

    “Fracking was developed at the Department of Energy,” the document shows Clinton saying. “I mean, the whole idea of how fracking came to be available in the marketplace is because of research done by our government. And I’ve promoted fracking in other places around the world.”

    She’s not denying the leaks:

  37. happy camper 2016-10-16 11:45

    No Mike I just think we should shine the light of skepticism on everyone and it appears she is a closet fracker here I thought the blog was against fracking.

    She’s a fracker who’s not denying the emails because it would bring attention to them she’s letting Trump take the heat on his assault accusations and the media is happy to oblige.

    She’s still the better choice, but there are big buts. Don’t give her a rubber stamp just cause she carries a D by her name she’s much more complicated and we should know who we are voting for can’t believe Cory doesn’t put a number of qualifiers on her. Better than Trump is about all you can say. No cheers, no applause, but vote for her.

  38. mike from iowa 2016-10-16 12:25

    I also noticed how wingnuts will say one thing here and something entirely different intended for their base audience at the war toilet. Go figure.

  39. happy camper 2016-10-16 12:34

    That’s just most politicians it does appear Hillary gave only conditional support for fracking until Sanders no fracking position pushed her that direction. As she said politics is unsavory. She’s not all bad but she’s a very mixed bag.

    “After leaving the Obama administration in 2014, Clinton still emphasized the benefits of fracking, implying that strict limits on fracking should be the exception to the rule. In 2016, Clinton has flipped her emphasis, as Sanders has gained an edge from his anti-fracking stance: Now, she suggests it will be a rare, unlikely case when fracking should be allowed.”

  40. Roger Cornelius 2016-10-16 12:50

    The only time politicians flip flopping concern me is when the flip the right way.
    We should always allow a candidate to grow on issues.
    Remember how President Obama was opposed to same-sex marriage a few years ago and later was an adamant supporter and has made it one of the hallmarks of his administration.
    Bernie is 100% opposed to fracking and it is likely that he will share his views with Hillary now that he has her full attention.
    Happy, let us know when you find the absolutely perfect candidate that isn’t a threat to either party.

  41. Leo 2016-10-16 13:21

    How many flips does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, Roger?

  42. happy camper 2016-10-16 13:25

    If pushed I will find the link to Cory’s posts where he is in love with Sanders, bashing Hillary at a time I called Trump a Mussolini type character and said everyone better get behind her for fear ending up with him, but since then we can’t deny the dumps. She’s still the better candidate but that doesn’t mean we can’t be logical and call her out.

    Spock had many qualities to admire, but like all public figures who play a role, including and maybe especially political candidates part of a machine to mold their image I just feel it’s a mistake to feel too connected to them, and too admiring of people we don’t know. In fact Nimoy blamed his alcoholism on the show.

    We are all flawed people, and while we want to have a person as President we can trust, because of the flaws we need to understand how they will affect or get in the way of the important role we are electing them to play.

    “The actor Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock in Star Trek, has admitted that his role as the Starship Enterprise’s straight-laced Vulcan with two hearts and no emotions, led him to alcohol addiction.”

  43. mike from iowa 2016-10-16 13:40

    Many of us wished for Bernie to be the nominee, but he isn’t and that is why many of us will vote for HRC, and as I have said on many occasions I do not like her personally.

    She s the only candidate for Potus-or any other political position who is eminently qualified because of the offices she has held. Plus the causes she has championed over her entire career.

    Drumpf’s only claim is he is a good businessman which is utter caca del toro when you see his actual deals and how often his Dad’s money and connections bailed him out.

  44. mike from iowa 2016-10-16 13:41

    Drumpf needs to be named America’s official sexual predator.

  45. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-16 13:46

    Barack Obama supported merit pay for teachers. Merit pay doesn’t work. That didn’t drive me to vote for Mitt Romney in 2012.

    BHO –> HRC, merit pay –> fracking….

  46. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-16 13:49

    So performing in a Hollywood television show led an actor to drink. How does that indict the values the President enunciates?

  47. Leo 2016-10-16 13:56

    Ask Nancy.

  48. Don Coyote 2016-10-16 13:59

    @mia: “Drumpf needs to be named America’s official sexual predator.”

    That title already belongs to Slick Willie. :-)

  49. Leo 2016-10-16 14:10

    My question is: Who paid those actors to say the lines that were given them?

  50. happy camper 2016-10-16 15:29

    The values are fine but a cultlike adulation toward people we don’t know is not. You see it in politics especially from those who are polarized they’ve got to have that person to believe and identify when politicians are more like celebrities unknown to us. At either a Trump or Clinton rally watch the camera scan as they jump and cheer. It’s ridiculous too much like peasants dying to get a glimpse of the king or queen there’s no reason for them to be hoisted on a pedestal it’s infantile.

  51. Roger Cornelius 2016-10-16 17:04

    How many flips does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?
    You tell, Leo. I’ve never taken the time or had the inclination to count them.
    Blaming alcoholism on anything is foolish, there are as many excuses for alcoholism as there are people, if not more. Alcoholism is a disease, not a social disorder.

  52. Leo 2016-10-16 17:19

    Roger, how should one have an excuse for a disease? Paranoia for example.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.