In my time of solutude and self-isolation, during this COVID19 crisis, I have been on a Star Trek marathon watch binge, every series, key episodes, but also analyses of the series, ideas, and fandom. Recently, I came across a video by vlogger, Steve Shives, titled, Why Do Conservatives Like Star Trek? The episode was inspired by a recent interview with U.S. Republican senator, Ted Cruz, who noted that he thought Captain Kirk would've been a Republican, citing also, that Republicans have to take their leaders where they get them.
Many people find this jarring. In the 50-plus years of the Star Trek, spanning television, books, movies, videogames, and even interviews with creators, showrunners, writers, and directors, the franchise has always presented itself as a "racial and ethnic' utopia, offering a vision of the future free of the baggages of hate, prejudice, discrimination, poverty, greed, grandiose wealth and engorged capitalism, all the things that, to many people, the Conservatives of twenty first century America, including Ted Cruz, a staunch supporter of Donald Tump, who espouses these views arrogantly, seem to represent.
How then can Conservatives (read: white males) be so invested in the franchise that seemingly goes against everything they stand for? The answer isn't hard to come by, as Shives' video demonstrates. See also, his video of Is Star Trek Actually Less Progressive Than You think? And also, Jessie Gender's The Women of Star Trek.
Shives' videos touch of two points I will make here to answer the conundrum of the Conservative love for Star Trek. On the surface level, it could be argued, as many conservatives who hate ST: Discovery has, that [earlier] Star Trek franchises didn't hit them over the head with "social justice warrior" messages--though, as Shives notes, Star Trek started out as a social justice narrative. But hey, perhaps, the rift here has more to do with the execution of ST's message rather than the intent of its creators.
In the writers' circles that I occupy, execution is more imporant than intent--what a writer intends to show/demonstrate versus what the readers take away from it.
In a way, it's not so much that Conservatives are missing the point, but rather that they don't think it applies to them. Shives notes that while Star Trek storylines have always dealt with real world issues, those issues are never personalized. That is to say, the analogous issues of racism, xenophobia, sexism, immorality, barbarism and terrorrism dealt with in the series are never issues that plague Starfleet/The Enterprise, which serve as stand-ins for the United States of America, the good guys.
These ugly issues plague the alien other--the brown, grey, reptilians--not the humans. It's the aliens who are racist and barbaric and primitive, and the Enterprise is the police of the galaxy where its white heroes swoop in to save the ethnics, ah, aliens from their worst instincts.
In other words, the three white heroes of Star Trek's enterprise series (TOS, TNG, ENT) are NEVER portrayed as the problem, nor do sociological issues exist in Starfleet. One of the criticisms of ST: Discovery (2017-) is that is portrays a darker, grittier vision of Starfleet, a trend that continues in ST: Picard. No longer is Starfleet a perfect, optimistic, never-in-the wrong organization policing the galaxy and doing good, but it too suffers from ethical failings and corruption. In other words, these series (and I think they do so mildly) point the mirror to themselves and not simply the alien others. They're basically criticizing the United States (Starfleet) and saying it has many moral failings; hence, conservatives score Discovery on the low-end.
Moreover, unlike the Enterprise series, Discovery does not center its narrative around three white male heroes. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is the one who drives the narrative of the series. The show also has a South Asian security chief, a gay couple, and a female captain in Phillippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and unlike the Enterprise shows, these characters are FAR FROM sidelined. They are fleshed out.
In a way, the comfort that Conservatives feel with Enterprise series has a lot to do with the racial safety of these series. Yes, they had non-white shipmates on the bridge; but, these characters are more like background decoration, rarely developed or included in the action (my heart goes out to Uhura, Sula, Mayweather, Hoshi), and while Geordi gets some action, he's never as developed as the three amigos (Picard, Riker, and Data). Worf's an alien other, which poses another comfort for conservatives who like the series. Most of the aliens are not white or white-skinned. Most are brown, grey, blue, or downright Reptilian and therefore devoid of sympathy, except for Worf who occupies the "noble savage" role--there to redeem his barbaric race, the Klingons.
In essence, because Star Trek's Enterprise series center their narratives on white male saviors, and place the sociaological issues plaguing the world at the feet of the alien-other (not Starfleet/Enterprise crew a.k.a. the United States), it's relatively easy for Conservatives to feel embodied by those heroes who look like them, while distancing themselves from the conflicts. It is not so much a failure of the narrative, or even intent, but more so a failure to humanize the other.
The Star Trek franchise is the creation of a white male (Gene Roddenberry), and has had at its helm, other white males (Brannon Braga, Rick Berman, Bryan Fuller, et.c.). That Conservatives take from the franchise what they want is more than simply the devil citing scripture for its purpose. They are most likely latching on to the failings (limitations) of the white male gaze/experience, the natural inclination of white male supremacy to seep into and coat just about every aspect of society, which is reflected in the franchise' over-reliance on white male saviors that, intentional or not, makes it clear to the viewer--to the Conservative viewer--that, at the end of the day, the people in charge, the good guys, are the white males.
I won't imply that the creators/showrunners knowingly meant to uphold white supremacy, though, quite frankly, I always felt ST: ENT (created by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga) was deliberate in its adherence to following the TOS status quo, down to the characters of Mayweather, Hoshi and T'Pol; these gender-swapped characters occupy the same professional designations as the TOS racial others; and, with the exception of T'Pol, the female Spock, Hoshi and Mayweather are just as sidelined as their TOS counterparts. By the final season of the show, I could not recall Mayweather's name, since he'd effectively become a face on the bridge. Neither Mayweather nor Hoshi is involved in any of the action, and neither received much character development. Sidelining racialized others and women make Star Trek a safe and comfortable franchise for white male conservatives who know that, at the end of the day, the people in charge, the ones that matter, are white men.
Star Trek delivers on this.