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 parliamentary lines.
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 when other cultures are 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.
- 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.
- The Free Planets Alliance in Legend of 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.
- This is one of the rare instances where the Space Germans are not modeled on Nazi Germany, but rather 19th Century Prussia. This makes it easy to sympathize with them as much as the Space Americans. Thus, Space America, instead of being looked upon as the default "good guy", can be viewed just as objectively.
- In Mobile Suit 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.
- The United Planets in Legion of Super-Heroes is (much like the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek) alternately this trope or the United Nations in space, depending on the needs of the story,
- 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.
- This one might actually be an invoked trope. Cooper had been gone for a very long time, so he was placed in a station that had a "Rural Americana" theme going on because it would be familiar to him; help ease the culture shock.
- The Fifth Element 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.
- Averted in the Star Wars prequels. The Galactic Republic seems to be mostly based on The Roman Republic, with shades of Germany during the 1930s. This makes the rise of the Galactic Empire analogous to the rise of The Roman Empire and Nazi Germany, with Palpatine being a combination of Emperor Augustus and Adolf Hitler. Played straight, however, with Naboo, where Padmé served two four-year terms as elected monarch.
- 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 INSPACE 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 Confederacy 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.
- The initial conflict in Ian Douglas's Galactic Marines series is between the US and the UN (European-dominated) over the discovery of human remains in alien ruins on Mars. Despite the archaeological mission being funded and run by the US, the UN insists on attaching observers with a military escort. The observers than immediately want to hide the discovery until proper decisions can be made at the highest level. Meanwhile, the American archaeologists believe that a discovery of such magnitude must be revealed to the public. The different philosophies (common good vs. individual achievement) come into sharp conflict here, eventually resulting in a war with, of course, the US Marines coming out on top.
- Averted in The Jenkinsverse: while the private corporations exploiting space are mostly American, the first human colony is a Brit-influenced liberal utopia, and the majority of the human spacefleet consists of British-made V-Class destroyers, with the American-made San Diego class cruisers still being under construction in 10 AV.
- Veeery subverted in Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space Series.
- The United States played some sort of important role in the early centuries of colonising the Solar System, including mentions of NASA or its successor partaking in the colonisation of Mars. (Captain Brannigan, a very long-lived character in the setting, is noted to have been born in the 21st century and witnessed the colonial era of Mars.) This era also sees US-dominated efforts to send out interstellar, unmanned Von Neumann probes into nearby planetary systems, with the goal of the automated ships making landfall on habitable planets and raising a local population of colonists from frozen embryos. The whole period later becomes known as the "Amerikano era", and as discovered in later centuries, most of its early attempts at interstellar colonisation had failed.
- By the early 23rd century, the colonies in the Solar System seem to have broken off entirely into their own polities. These include Mars itself, now fought over by the Conjoiner movement and the Coalition for Neural Purity, both equally multinational power blocks, and several successful polities on the moons of Jupiter, including the stronghold of the Demarchist movement/regime on Europa. Several influential political and scientifical leaders of the Demarchist movement are French-Canadian in ancestry, in addition to plenty of other nationalities from an array of backgrounds in Europe, Asia, North America and other continents.
- Once humanity starts colonising new planetary systems (in two entirely separate efforts, no less), the nation states and political factions of Earth no longer even seem relevant. Various new factions, built around colonisation and transhumanist ideologies, become more dominant, and they tend to have a rather even mix of various nationalities and a government structure very different to that of the United States, or other contemporary Earth countries. At that point, it seems the old allegiances to Earth governments or the idea of nation states are well and truly dead. The United States, Russia, China and any number of countries big or small are barely mentioned, even though you can still trace people's backgrounds by paying attention to their names. Some planets of the "Amerikano era" are revisited to see how things had gone, but the efforts prove a disappointment, virtually all of these colonies having failed sooner or later. Though some of these early exo-colonies still retain very US-inspired names like "Grand Teton" and "Yellowstone", they are recolonised anew by the now starfaring Demarchists. This leads to the hilarious twist of planets like Yellowstone (in the Epsilon Eridani system) having a very cosmopolitan society featuring people with European and Russian, North American, East Asian and all manner of other given names and family names, but the most influential and politically dominant elites and families have French-Canadian, French and Cantonese sounding names. (Tellingly, you get people with names like Nils Girardieau, Thalia Ng, Dan Sylveste, Gillian Sluka, Tom Dreyfus, Xavier Liu, Pauline Sukhoi, Jane Aumonier, doctors Demikhov and Trintignant, and the list goes on...) The era that marks the height of Yellowstone's prosperity is even dubbed by the very French historical term "La Belle Époque".
- The last greater vestige of United States' influence on the entire setting is the main lingua franca - Norte, from "Norteamericano", an amalgam language of North American English (US and Canada) and North American Spanish (Mexico, most probably). Use of different future languages is noted throughout the various novels and shorter fiction in the series, and presumably, most of the time, the characters are speaking in the most widely understood Norte. Other major languages are Canasian (a Canadian French and Cantonese hybrid), the mother tongue of the Demarchist elites, and Russish (an English and Russian hybrid), used in addition to Norte.
- 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; a particularly odd artefact since, in the Trek universe, the United States doesn't exist anymore, and sources conflict as to what it actually stands for.
- 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 in the Next Generation episode "The Neutral Zone". When a Human Popsicle from the twentieth century hears that he's on the USS Enterprise, he assumes it's an American ship, but Riker corrects him.
- 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.
- It's also worth nothing, however, that while The Federation is ruled by a President, it's actually closer to a Parliamentary-style democratic republic rather than the one the US uses (the Presidental candidates are nominated directly by the Federation Council - the President in DS9 mentions he didn't even WANT the job, but got stuck with it through nomination - even though the final vote goes to the people), making the President more of a Prime Minister.
- In Battlestar Galactica (2003), the Twelve Colonies of Kobol needed only one more colony to be guilty of cultural copyright infringement; it mixes the United Space of America with the Twelve Tribes of Israel and Ancient Grome IN SPACE!.
- 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. However, 'Earthdome' is in Geneva, home of many League of Nations entities, not San Fransisco or New York.
- Played with in the backstory of BattleTech. Plenty of colonies that were closest to Terra traced their culture and ancestry to the United States of America, due to its powerful status within the Terran Alliance which allowed the USA to secure the best real estate around humanity's homeworld. That proximity backfired when the Succession Wars erupted, as the worlds around Terra were heavily fought over and sometimes rendered uninhabitable. As a result, by the game's opening year of 3025 Asian and European cultures are prevalent throughout the Inner Sphere, with few if any American-derived cultures depicted.
- The Terran Confederation of the early Traveller timeline as detailed in the volume Interstellar Wars, though it's close enough to being 20 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 off 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 inspires major Rooting for the Empire.
- In Halo, the Unified Earth Government and its various bodies play with this in a number of different ways:
- The United Nations Space Command, officially the UEG's military, exploratory, and scientific agency, has a military set up 100% identical to the modern US military's, which is particularly noticeable with its Marine Corps. However, the UNSC is politically a pretty stark aversion; thanks to the Human-Covenant War, the UNSC ends up taking control of the government, becoming in essence a military junta. Even though it officially ceded power back to the UEG after the Covenant War, the UNSC is still in practice the humanity's main ruling body, meaning that post-war humanity is more of a military empire. Even before the Covenant War, the UNSC was quite willing to resort to extreme methods of maintaining control over its citizens, like kidnapping children to turn them into super-soldiers and even nuking colonies.
- The Unified Earth Government itself is a pretty straight example; it's a representative democracy divided into an executive, legislative, and judicial branch, which include an elected president and a senate. That said, the UEG's capital (as well as UNSC headquarters) is located in Sydney, Australia instead of somewhere in America. While it is formally a union of independent planets, in practice Earth and the Inner Colonies are privileged in the election process.
- Making things more complicated, the UNSC's Office of Naval Intelligence has become a parallel government in its own right, often acting without the approval or knowledge of either the UEG or UNSC. As shown in HUNT the TRUTH, ONI often employs downright Orwellian methods of maintaining control over humanity, like completely shutting down the Internet; unlike the rest of the UNSC, ONI doesn't even make a pretense of respecting the UEG's authority. Adding to the mess, there's also a secret society of smart AIs have been influencing humanity from behind the scenes for centuries.
- Culturally, humanity's various worlds tend to be impressively diverse, while the UEG/UNSC itself tends to be more American. On one hand, English is the UNSC's "national" language, spoken by all the main characters in the games, and the main cast tends to be white or black with names like John, Avery, Jameson, Edward, etc. (though the UNSC's current two most powerful leaders are British and Turkish). On the other hand, even Earth itself is shown to have remained quite culturally diverse (for example, the Mombasa public service announcements heard in Halo 2 are all in Swahili), and the colonies often have cultures that aren't American in the least bit. Even Reach, the UNSC's second most important planet, has a significant portion of its population who speak Hungarian as a first language (in fact, the planet was originally settled by Hungarians, hence why most of Reach's locations and even its moons have Hungarian names); at the beginning of Halo: Reach, Jorge is the only member of Noble Team able to speak to the local civilians because they don't know English and he's the only one on the team who can speak Hungarian (being a Reach native himself). In part because of this diversity, the colonies heavily resent the UNSC, which overthrew the Colonial Administration Authority that had previously administered them.
- 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 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 by the FBI. (Fortunately, there's also the fourth faction: the Rebellion against the Bureau.)
- The Empire in the Section 8 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 Successor Civilization: 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.
- The actual American faction in Beyond Earth doesn't fit the trope at all — it's a monolithic Mega-Corp that doesn't even pretend to have any particular continuity with the old democratic government. The closest thing to an American culture is probably Polystralia, a conglomeration of Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia, and much of the surrounding regions.
- PlanetSide's New Conglomerate, a collective of Mega Corps, pirates, mercenaries, and libertarians, aims to overthrow the Terran Republic - an oppressive oligarchy in the first game, and a struggling collectivist state in the second - and establish a democratic freedom-loving state. The NC soundtrack incorporates rock and country themes and their selection of Micro Transactions cosmetics include homages to the USA in the form of decals and a ten gallon hat.
- Crisis of the Confederation's Frontier, one of the Terran Confederation's constituent republics, was explicitly patterned on the earthbound United States government and largely settled by a population with Anglo-American backgrounds. The New Frontier is in turn an outgrowth of the old, but the two are divided by the fact that the New Frontier believes that the Confederation has betrayed the core values of liberty and democracy on which it was founded, and thus they have sided with the Orion League against the Confederation to gain independence and start again with a clean slate.
- In Freelancer, Liberty is one of the four Houses (read: nations) in the Sirius Sector. Descended from predominantly American settlers, the people of Liberty strive to recreate the US in space (the name comes from the name of the ship that brought the settlers to Sirius). The planets and systems in Liberty are named after American locations (e.g. the capital of Liberty is the planet Manhattan in the New York system). The government system appears to be an American-style democracy with an elected President.
- Stellaris has two AI personalities that represent this. Federation Builders seek to make allies and combine multiple strengths of races without subjugating any of them and have a feel of a Star Trek style Federation. Democratic Crusaders wish to bring Democracy to the Galaxy and will be hostile to any empire that does not have a democratic government.
- The Gallente Federation in EVE Online. While they're technically descended from the French according to the lore, their system of government is rather overtly based on that of America, they're described as the most libertine and freedom-loving society in the galaxy, and they have major ethnic tensions stemming from immigration by the Minmatar, who are essentially Space Latinos.
- Sunless Skies: New Winchester and the Reach in general tends to fulfill this role, with the twist that it's the colonial sort of America. New Winchester is a large colony seeking independence from the British Empire, and willing to fight them over it at any turn; in fact, the Colonial Assembly of the game and the Continental Congress have a lot of subtle similarities. Since the year is around the very, very early 1900s, long after the actual USA became independent, it looks like the Brits haven't learned a thing.
- 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.
- 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?"