InIn Season 4, Episodes 1 through 3 of “Star Trek: Discovery”, the now Captain Burnham enters politics as a leader. She is tested and weighed by Federation president Laira Rillak and found lacking but also full of promise. The Captain and the President have two different approaches to leadership. Captain Burnham, for instance, takes risks and is willing to sacrifice the whole in order to save all. At the same time, she acknowledges the agency of others. President Rillak, for instance, is strategic with the intent of manifesting a particular ideology and uses information to achieve goals in a way that is ethically questionable. She acts upon others. She also will sacrifice the few for the good of the whole. Yet, Captain Burnham and President Rillak demonstrate respect for each other and subsequently work together in the political realm. President Rillak, again using an ethically questionable tactic, employs Captain Burnham and Saru to engage in negotiations on Ni’var with the aim of that planet re-joining United Federation of Planets. Captain Burnham and Saru co-create diplomatic communication in which understanding of context, subtext, subtleties, and personality are necessary to achieve goals and do so with sincerity and authenticity.
The political environment can be complicated. It is easy to engage in essentialism—to see one party in opposition to another, to see one and/or one’s actions as “evil” and the other and/or the other’s actions as “good”. Even one who is or whose actions are “good”, though, can be perceived as operating with ill-intent. Everyone is a whole person. Judgment objectifies and prevents authentic connection as well as deep understanding of both the self/Self and the other/Other. In the end, all humans in any political environment are culpable for what we weave in and how we weave the fabric can be seen as community or as family, two major Star Trek themes, but actually is more existential than that— as the union of Tal, Adira, and Gray has shown, we are all one. The way in which Captain Burnham and Saru operate in the political environment stems from and emphasizes this deep existential being that serves the good of all without manipulation.