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Angus Deayton: There's also been a lawsuit revolving around the Pathfinder. [...] NASA have been sued by a couple of Yemeni men, because they claim they own Mars. They were left it by ancient ancestors. [beat] Martin Clunes: Well, it's better than the Americans just assuming it's theirs...
This trope is about the tendency in works of science fiction to show the default form of human government to be an American-style republic. Such settings will (generally) have American standards regarding cultural norms, rights, and freedoms (with the occasional strange addition or subtraction, just to show that we aren't dealing with modern day Earth). Sometimes the cultural supremacy of the United States over all other human or alien "nations" is explicitly declared, while other times it's shown with a bit more subtlety.
In either case, most people, space stations, ships, planets, settlements, and so on will not only have names in English, but they'll also have names that are recognizably American. The Federation will be ruled by an elected President, there will be a Congress-like legislature, and so on. Even the military will use a ranking system based on American military ranks. This is largely due to the outsized role Hollywood plays in western popular culture. In short, a subtrope of Creator Provincialism.
On the other hand, this can be justified, if only because the US is the only country (so far) to actually achieve manned spaceflight outside of Earth orbit, and the people who get there first will naturally set things up to their liking. The United States was established as a federal system, with protections for the rights of its constituent states combined with elements of direct representation of the people in the central government. Any democratic world government assembled from existing nations and not established by conquest would likely also take a similar federal form, either along presidential or parliamentarylines.
Finally, there's an American tradition of using a science fiction setting to examine (Star Trek), criticise (The Twilight Zone) or satirize (Futurama) contemporary American culture in ways that would be uncomfortable otherwise. These shows resemble America in space because that's the whole point—a point that frequently gets lost when these shows are exported or translated into other languages.
See Space Romans for another culture that often is Recycled IN SPACE! See America Takes Over the World for when the world is run by the United States of America itself. Compare Fictional United Nations, which has a similar based-on-a-real-organization derivation.
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A recent Cadillac commercial that riffed on National Stereotypes included the assertion that the Americans left the keys in their Lunar Rovers because they knew no one else was going back there.
Anime and Manga
The Free Planets Alliance in Legend of the Galactic Heroes clearly invokes the USA (right down to the English lyrics of the anthem), to the point that they might as well be called "Space Americans" At the same time, however, it's revealed to be an increasingly dysfunctional democracy wracked by corruption. By the time the series begins, the efforts of a few good men like Yang Wen-li and the threat posed by their Space German enemies are pretty much the only things effectively holding them together. Most of the Alliance eventually does fall to Reinhard about halfway into the show.
It should be noted that the Alliance was originally a breakout faction of the Space German Empire and therefore younger than them by several hundred years. Which only serves to strengthen analogies to the American War of Independence against the British.
In Gundam Wing, the L2 Colonies belong to America. Later, Earth and the space colonies are all merged into the Earth Sphere Unified Nation.
The Earth Federation in the Universal Century Gundam works is at least nominally this given its rather American (and generally Western) aesthetic. For the space colonies however, this rings hollow given the EF's tendency of treating Spacenoids as second-class citizens (not to mention many of the original colonists being sent out due to not having the political or economic means to stay on Earth), which would give rise to Zeon (and its many offshoots), Cosmo Babylonia and the Zanscare Empire.
The United Earthes in Universal War One is supposed to be the United Nations Organisation's sucessor, but the military is NATO-like and civil society is very similar to the american one. The United Earthes flag features stars and red/white stripes like the american flag. We have no information about the government, except that its capital is New York, and one of the characters comments that they could not have Washington as capital as it would have been too obvious that the USA are dominating the United Earthes.
In Aliens it is clear that the United States is still a superpower and has colonized several planets. When contact is lost with LV-426, the United States Colonial Marine Corps is sent to investigate.
In Interstellar, The colony Cooper finds himself in at the end is pretty much a piece of rural America orbiting Saturn, with NASA still overseeing things.
TheFifthElement has the President of the Federated Territories, of which Earth, specifically New York, appears to be merely the capital city. This is possibly meant to reference the United Nations.
According to the novelization, this Federation's predecessor WAS the U.S.
In The Stars, Like Dust by Isaac Asimov, the book revolves around a document that can destroy the tyranny of the empire known as, well, the Tyranni. At the end, when the characters read the document for the first time, it turns out to be a text of the United States Constitution.
The very concept of the Bio of a Space Tyrant series by Piers Anthony is that every planet in the world is, sociopolitically, a Recycled IN SPACE! version of some continent or region on Earth. For instance, the United States took the northern hemisphere of Jupiter—the largest planet in the solar system—to colonize and make into the image of the old Earthly United States.
Andrey Livadny does this in his The History of the Galaxy books with the Confederacy of Suns, which has an elected president. Not much else is known about the politics of the Confederacy. Each planet also has its own government, although everyone is subject to Confederate laws. Before the Confederacy, there was the Earth Alliance, which seems to be between this and The Empire with their treatment of the colonies and brutal suppression of any resistance. The Space Navy ranks are still Russian, though, with the addition of the "Galact" prefix.
Mikhail Akhmanov's Arrivals from the Dark series has this first with the USC (United States and Canada), which has military forces in space, along with Russia (with whom they are good friends) and European Union (which seems more unified than today). All three powers deliberately keep the other nations grounded, including China. In later novels, the Earth Federation is the official government of humanity, although it is unclear if the nation-states still exist as governing bodies.
It should be noted that the author specifically mentions that the ranks in the Space Navy are based on the British and American models, even though the books are Russian.
There's a plot-important election in the Lensman series, in which the proto-Lensmen are trying to get Rod "the Rock" Kinnison elected to what amounts to President of North America. It's explicitly stated that the only part of Earth that really matters is North America, the implication being that the other backwater regions will fall in line with whatever North America says. "North America" in this context is the post-World War III successor state to the United States but clearly has an American Federalism style government.
The Terran Confederation in the Star Carrier is a true confederacy in that its member nations are still independent in their own right, including having their own Space Navies. However, the Confederation has been slowly centralizing its power despite objections from the more independent-mind nations like the United States of North America. In fact, the largest conflict stems from the USNA refusing to kowtow to the Paneuropean-dominated Confederate Senate and admirals. In fleet actions, the biggest conflicts come from the different military traditions, with Paneuropean officers being the more obedient, and USNA officers being more independent-minded. Historical precedents are also important to the friction between the Confederation and the USNA, with the Confederation being more willing to accept the Sh'daar demands to survive, while the USNA adopting the usual "live free or die" attitude. The USNA finally secedes in the fourth book, after the Confederation attempts to forcibly take a hyper-advanced AI created by USNA scientists as a "strategic resource" and force the USNA to toe the partly line. The USNA responds by using illegal weapons and attacking civilian targets, including wiping out the capital of the USNA with a Grey Goo bomb. After a relatively brief war, the Confederation collapses from within (thanks to some information warfare by the same USNA AI). It's implied that it will be re-created to be more USNA-dominated, fulfilling this trope.
Live Action TV
Star Trek: The Original Series: The United Federation of Planets was basically the United States IN SPACE! Bonus points for having the Klingons played as the counterpart for the Soviet Union and the Romulans act at least a little like Communist China. One of the most prominent examples of this trope is the use of "USS" as a ship name prefix.
This especially stands out in the fact that Starfleet headquarters is in San Francisco (though the far less seen capital is Paris), Starfleet seems to be dominated by white, English-speaking humans and while many human colony worlds are shown, non-human Federation members all seem to be limited to their own Planet of Hats.
Lampshaded again in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager where the crew find themselves in the modern day (read: 1990s). A band of Crazy Survivalists capture a couple of them, along with a shuttle, and when they see the USS on the side of the shuttle, they assume it's some experimental military prototype.
On the other hand, Caprica in, well, Caprica has a Prime Minister (despite the prevalence of American Accents) and refers to "Ministers" (indicating parliamentary government). That, and the fact that racism is directed towards foreigners (especially Taurons) rather than a subgroup of native Capricans, suggests comparisons to Britain, especially '50s Britain. The Colonies as a whole had no unified government until the Cylon war forced them to, and as a result it is hinted on occasion that the Colonial Military has more influence and power than modern American-style systems.
seaQuest DSV: The U.E.O., despite claiming to have a U.N.-like mandate, certainly acts like the United States.
Then you have Macronesia in Season 3, which is in a Cold War-like state with UEO. They have a charismatic president, who doesn't shy from using illegal means to achieve his goals.
Macronesia is frequently shown annexing other territories. They don't always reveal that a territory has been annexed either, which forms the plot of one episode, when a seaQuest crewmembers is arrested by Macronesian forces "trespassing" in a recently-annexed territory. She thought she was in a free territory.
Firefly: complete with a Wild West motif and allusions to The American Civil War. On the other hand, there's extensive use of Chinese culture, with lots of use of Chinese-style dress, writing system, and language (but oddly, almost no Asian-looking people). The backstory explains the whole mess as the result of an alliance between the US and China.
It's also mentioned that the areas surrounding the American-settled capital world (in contrast to the other Chinese one) match this trope much more closely.
Red Dwarf seems to be set in an American-style society with a few British influences. The justice system uses American legal jargon, the brig is styled after American prisons and officially there isn't a Floor 13 (which is a mostly American tradition). Spacelanes are on the right and in the alternate history from Tikka to Ride, Russia's victory in the space race resulted in Red Dwarf not being built.
Of course, it averts this at times as well. For example, in Back To Earth, Rimmer claims that one day he'll be First Lord Of The Star Fleet, presumably making the Space Corps a British organisation.
Perhaps the series' schizophrenic approach is best summed up by the fact that the currency of the future is...the dollarpound.
Babylon 5 does this by having the Earth Alliance be created by the major powers in the wake of First Contact to replace the UN. It took a war to bring some of the smaller countries in (or something like that), and San Diego got nuked by terrorists as a result. The President and Vice President are directly elected, but the various countries of Earth still exist, subject to Earth Alliance law. 'Earthdome' is however in Geneva, home of many League of Nations entities, not San Fransisco or New York.
Played with in the backstory of BattleTech. There were plenty of colonies that traced their culture and ancestry to the United States of America, but they were also the closest colonies to Terra due to America's technological edge allowing them to get there first. When the unification wars started, they were also the first to be burned to the ground leaving the Successor States with very few "North American" survivors. The South Americans went on to help form the Free Worlds League.
The Terran Confederation of the early Traveller timeline as detailed in the volume Interstellar Wars, though it's close enough to being Twenty Minutes into the Future that the Confederation might literally be a futuristic offshoot of the United States.
The Second and Third Imperiums that succeed the Confederation, naturally, are aversions.
Subverted in the RPG Traveller:2300 (which, confusingly, is not in the same franchise universe as Traveller, despite being published by the same company [Game Developers Workshop]; later on it was renamed simply "2300AD"). The "universe" of Traveller:2300 was developed by the game designers actually gaming out future history. In that game, it was France that dominated, and so emerged as the major interstellar power.
AT-43: The U.N.A.(United Nations of Ava) are based of Cold War America, fighting space commies, and aliens.
The Codex for Mass Effect claims that the countries are still all divvied up more or less as they are now (save that the European Union looks to be all one country now, and Mexico, Canada and Carribean Islands joined the US to form the United North American States). The Systems Alliance, however, is the face of humanity as far as the other species of the galaxy are concerned, having started as a token organization to organize the various government's efforts into space before being granted extraterrestrial rights to all human interests in space.
One of the planet descriptions describes a conflict between the United North American States, European Union, and People's Federation of China over colonization rights. It calls them coalitions, so they may be more like regional alliances.
The I.S.A of Killzone is essentially America in space fighting an amalgamation of every totalitarian regime ever in space. Unfortunately, Evil Is Cool combined with the I.S.A's astonishing bland-nessnote not to mention the fact that it's their fault the Helghast are the way they are inspires major Rooting for the Empire.
Disturbingly and importantly averted in Halo by the UNSC. As of the Human-Covenant War, the UNSC now control all government on all human planets. Basically, it's a military run empire. Previously, it was much more America-like, but it still differed, and the UNSC still had alot of power. Even more importantly, a secret group of smart AIs have been running the show for centuries, meaning that it's been a secret dictatorship (which would take such measures as nuking a human colony if it served their purposes).
Before the Human-Covenant War the UNSC was the Unified Earth Government's military and exploratory agency, tasked with protecting the colonies and expanding into the galaxy, with the colonies' civilian government being assigned to local representatives and the Colonial Administration Authority. By the end of the war the colonies have been so utterly devastated and the resources necessary to wage total war had resulted in the UNSC assuming de facto control of both the UEG and the CAA.
The characters in the series all speak English, but that's not indicative of humanity as a whole. Reach, for example, is one of the UNSC's most important planets, and yet its population is predominately Hungarian. At the beginning of Halo: Reach, Jorge is the only member of Noble Team able to speak to a civilian because she doesn't know English and he's the only one on the team who can speak Hungarian.
The Terran Confederation from Wing Commander is the largest and most important human government in the setting, consisting of over 700 star systems. It is a representative democracy headed by an elected president, and the chief legislative body is the Confederation Senate which is based in Washington D.C. Additionally, the armed forces of the Terran Confederation are made up of four branches: Army, Navy, Marines, and Space Forces. Basically, the Terran Confederation is a 27th century version of the United States of America.
The Argon Federation in the X-Universe games is an aversion. In the original German, the government is described as having a president and a senate, but the X-Encyclopedia explains that said president is the president of the senate. In other words, he/she is a prime minister rather than an American-style president, making the Argon government a parliamentary democracy instead of this trope.note The confusion stems mainly from the fact that non-English-speaking European countries generally use the local translation of "president" instead of "prime minister". Also, their official language is a simplified version of Japanese, not English.
Used, and quite disturbingly subverted, by Escape Velocity: Nova. The Federation has a US-like government, especially compared to the Aurorans, who have a system based around clan elders, and the Polaris, who have a caste system. However, the US (probably) isn't being run bythe FBI. (Fortunately, there's also the fourth faction: the Rebellion against the Bureau.)
The Empire in the Section8 series was born from the United States, and has forgotten its founding principles to become ruthlessly expansionist and oppressive.
Subverted in Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri, and averted entirely in its Spiritual SuccessorCivilization: Beyond Earth. In Alpha Centauri, the UNS Unity expedition to colonize a new world quickly splinters into different factions, none of which resemble the United States (although one is explicitly an attempt to recreate the United Nations). Beyond Earth takes things even further, with multiple Earth nations each launching their own "Seeding" expeditions to new worlds.
Futurama does this in a big way. Technically the Earth has unified into one country that just seems to be called "Earth", but all aspects of the government that aren't just random jokes are clearly based on the present-day United States. The president of Earth is Richard Nixon's disembodied head, the Earthican flag is even the exact same as the American flag, except with a globe in place of the stars, Washington DC is the capital and the US Constitution is still the ruling document (with some minor changes in the 22nd amendment wording that allowed Nixon to claim there Ain't No Rule to prevent his reelection).
There's also the Democratic Order of Planets, of which Earth is a member, and which appears to be responsible for military "protection" of Earth and allied worlds. When Zapp Brannigan accidentally destroyed the new DOOP Headquarters in the Neutral Zone, the DOOP council moved back to their old HQ in Weehawken, NJ.
Goes to ridiculous levels when someone objects to Richard Nixon running for President, because he's already served two terms. Apparently President of the US and President of the Earth aren't just run similarly, they're the exact same thing.
The Simpsons episode "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson" has a filmstrip that ends with the phrase "The moon belongs to America, and anxiously awaits the arrival of our astro-men. Will you be among them?"