And standing as a white kid in 1990′s America, that stuff seemed to hold together. Between the fall of The Berlin Wall and 9/11, existential threats were something that other countries dealt with. We’d won and felt empowered to reach down and meddle in others’ affairs to help them out. TOS’s promise that humanity could become better became a complacent belief that The United States had become better.
But DS9, simply nodded at domestic peace. walked to the edge of that and looked out. The problems were still there, just outside of paradise, and they put a Starfleet crew on the edge of The Federation and dared to show them that their bubble of progress was cut off sharply at the border. Their mandate wasn’t to militarily intervene the way we did in Somalia, Haiti, and Kosovo, but to help a society grow and even accept them, if they so chose.
Then, it turned around and divested us of that conceit of progress. I reject DS9 on a few levels because it cynically deconstructs the progress of the human race. My complaints about DS9′s affront to the principles of Star Trek are dwarfed by a much-needed, and oft-unheard criticism of post-Cold War America’s belief in our own righteousness and morality. It addressed our ability to condescend, the ugly violence beneath that peace, the blatant inequalities that were easily ignored, and even foreshadowed the obsession with security that has gripped us for the past fourteen years.
The conceit of American exceptionalism, repeated as mantra by our politicians because we demand they laud us as saints for collectively shoving others down and out pricking all other pricks to be Chief Prick of Earth was something Deep Space Nine was adamantly against.
Why was DS9 unpopular? No one likes being reminded that it’s easy to be a saint in paradise.
Why was it enduring? Because it was right.