For most of “Starship Troopers,” humanity, in every possible facet, gets its ass kicked. A culture that reveres and communicates exclusively through violence—a culture very much like one that responds to peaceful protests with indiscriminate police brutality, or whose pandemic strategy is to “dominate” an unreasoning virus—keeps running up against its own self-imposed limitations. Once again, the present has caught up to Verhoeven’s acid vision of the future. It’s not a realization that anyone in the film can articulate, or seemingly even process, but the failure is plain: society has left itself a single solution to every problem, and it doesn’t work.
Donald Trump didn’t empty American politics of everything but violence; he’s just what was left afterward. He is more an emblem of American defeat than its author. The world of “Starship Troopers” aligns with our moment in its wastefulness and brutality, and most of all in being so helplessly recursive.