What BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Has To Say About The Election

What happened this week has happened before.

It would be an understatement to say I’m at a loss right now, as I’m sure many of you are and maybe even for more terrifying reasons than mine. By electing a racist, misogynist demagogue of such an incompetent caliber, the United States of America has shot itself in the foot, severed said foot off with a hacksaw, let it rot for two weeks in the musty backwaters of South Carolina, only to serve the gangrenous thing to the rest of the world as part of Thanksgiving dinner. But it’s not the end of the humanity. We might be teetering along the edge, but I doubt we’re there yet.

Battlestar Galactica has always been about existing precariously on that edge. The 2003 reboot of the series crafted a reality where humankind has been whittled down to the tens of thousands by a hostile enemy of our own creation and forced into the vast emptiness of space without a home. Not quite post-apocalyptic, and not exactly trying for dystopia, the show presented our modern civilization in stark, fragile terms—where the whole of humankind can be extinguished at the wrong flip of the switch, and where the only thing between us and the brutal chaos of the void is the thin armor plating of our battlestar.

At the cusp of extinction, the forty-thousand plus survivors of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol still had to deal with a lot of the same trials and tribulations we deal with here on the ground. There’s drug abuse and alcoholism, limited resources leading to poverty, a military and a police force that often struggle to stay separate, and perhaps worst of all, there’s the civic duty of democracy.

The outcome of our recent election has many questioning the effectiveness of our democracy. A system that’s so often praised for the freedom it affords should not give way so easily to an entity that openly disparages it. The American experiment is 240 years strong, but is one election all it takes to prove it wrong?

The second season finale of Battlestar Galactica brought the question of democracy to the forefront, as President Laura Roslin must struggle with reelection. A school teacher who initially had the title of President thrust upon her because she was at the right place at the wrong time, Roslin nevertheless proved her pragmatism, compassion, and reliability as a leader by guiding the last remnants of humanity out of countless perils. Her opponents in the race are Gaius Baltar, an egotistical coward with no leadership experience and whose only claim to the presidency is his own entitlement (eerily familiar), and Baltar’s running mate Tom Zarek, a former terrorist and anti-establishmentarian who promises to run the show once the charismatic Gaius gets elected. The two are running on a platform that was tailor made to appeal to a tired and fragmented population, but not exactly devised with that population’s best interests in mind. After years of living in a dark, rickety spacecraft, Baltar’s camp offers the prospect of permanent settlement on a newly discovered planet on the edge of the habitable zone.

Roslin’s base can’t offer anything that shiny, in fact she can only promise more of the same hardships until the fleet can stumble upon some vague salvation. So naturally, it becomes clear that Baltar will win the race. The kicker is that Roslin suspects Baltar has Cylon-related ulterior motives for coveting the presidency. Hell, she knows Baltar sold humanity out to the toasters on the eve of the initial attacks. But she has no proof, and so her only safeguard is to undermine democracy.

I’ll admit right here that I was struggling with the value of democracy when I was watching that electoral map turn red. On my list of people to blame, I had even Hillary Clinton herself. I asked myself why, with so many politicians, cities and businesses supporting her, she couldn’t clinch the vote. I wouldn’t even have cared if she somehow cheated—anything to prevent an absolute monster from taking office. And we all know how many qualms the GOP has about fudging the ballot in their favor.

Roslin could have sabotaged the election, easily. There was a plan at her disposal, and the right people would have supported her in covertly blocking Baltar from office. Yet, at a pivotal moment, she still decided against such an action. Doing so, she exemplified an understanding of civic duty that most rulers could only dream of having.

Many hours of soul-searching, and revisiting the election saga of BSG, has allowed me to move past our own election with my faith in democracy shaken, but not defeated. As a nation, we have shifted our collective weight in the direction of implosion. But as a society, not much has changed since the morning before the results were in; the same problems, tensions and dynamics persist. About 59,700,000 Americans went out on Tuesday to vote on the behalf of evil, but at least 60,000,000 people were willing and able to oppose them. Anti-Trump protesters of every stripe have taken to the streets in droves. Meanwhile, Trump zealots can only celebrate their victory like cowards, targeting inanimate objects in the shadows and preying on individuals while they’re alone and vulnerable. They may have won the election, but if the numbers are any indication, their hateful ideology has not won the country.

After Baltar’s inauguration, the fleet immediately settles on the desolate rock—dubbed ‘New Caprica’—and surprise, surprise, the Cylons do eventually come home to roost in overwhelming numbers. The toasters proceed on a months’ long occupation of the settlement, under which many people are capture, tortured, murdered or forced into the most humiliating circumstances. The fight for survival becomes harder than it had ever been up to that point in the show, which is to say nothing of the main characters’ battle for liberation. Taking Battlestar Galactica as an indication, I can’t exactly sugarcoat what every decent American may be in for during the next four years.

Donald Trump has a plethora of New Capricas to land us on. There’s his tax cuts for the wealthy, his opposition towards healthcare, his disregard for climate change, his habit of encouraging violence against women and minorities, and his unscrupulous ties to the Russian government. There’s also the fact that he might not even be running the show, in which case his VP and Paul Ryan surely are, and that’s an even scarier can of worms. Any of these factors could strand our civilization on a desolate rock, at the mercy of red-eyed, walking firearms. But as Starbuck told Chief Tyrol once the Cylons landed, we’ll “fight em’ until we can’t.”

Perhaps the most pivotal lesson Battlestar Galactica taught about catastrophe is what we do in its wake, after things become relatively safe again. What do we do about the people who put us in this mess? How do we look into the eyes of our transgressors? Once the escape from New Caprica was all said and done, an impeached Gaius Baltar was put on trial for treason. In a strange turn of events, the air force commander Lee Adama—portrayed by Jamie Bamber giving his best performance of the series—comes to Baltar’s defense on the witness stand. Ultimately, Lee argues that amnesty is the most practical way for a society to proceed during periods of division.

As David Wong lays out in this brilliant Cracked article, there is a particularly tragic perspective to take when examining the people who put Trump in power. A vast majority of the poor, rural voters who backed Trump already feel like they’re on derelict space ships floating through a distant galaxy. They feel they are under fire by an increasingly esoteric modern way of living; city-life and the information economy may as well give way to sentient toasters out to destroy us all. This doesn’t excuse white voters of their racism and bigotry, but understanding the multifaceted nature of their anger will go a long way towards reconciliation. And we’re all going to have to make a serious effort for reconciliation before anything gets any better around here.

The election is over now, though plenty of people are still looking to blame certain groups for America’s great shockwave. We blame the protest voters, the third parties and the Bernie bros. We blame the media, the liberals and the leftists. We blame the spineless wackjobs of the GOP. But the blame game isn’t going to do us any good now because—as Lee Adama elaborated—“we’re on the run. And we have to fight to survive. We have to break rules. We have to bend laws. We have to improvise.” Hold those you care about close to you, and reach out to those who are willing to cooperate. Stay vigilant for communities that are under persecution. The poor, angry and hateful can enjoy their victory now because it’s the only thing that will be afforded them before they’re in the same hot water as the rest of us. We can hold past crimes accountable, but past grudges are more meaningless than ever.

“I’d say we’re very forgiving of mistakes,” Battlestar has Lee point out, after a listing of his own for a crowded courtroom. “We make our own laws now. Our own justice.” And since justice certainly wasn’t served this election, we have quite the road ahead of us.

To those who willingly bolstered Trump to the oval office, I hope for your well-being, the same way I hope for everyone else’s. I hope the satisfaction you gain from seeing your creation installed in the Oval Office is enough to alleviate the pain and anxiety that compels you to the arms of hatred. I hope that once you discover hatred is unnecessary, we can all finally get back to work.