Why it’s time to cancel Russophobia

In a country that prides itself on being a bastion for tolerance and diversity, there is absolutely no room for the egregious level of Russophobia that currently stains our political discourse.

American political discourse is filled with anti-Russia rhetoric. Today, labeling a political opponent a “Russian asset” to discredit them has become the go-to tactic of partisans on both sides of the political spectrum. From labelling former Democratic Presidential Candidate Tulsi Gabbard as a “Russian asset” to giving the nickname “Moscow Mitch” to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, Russophobia is not endemic to either political party.

In many instances in which such labels are used, there is little to no evidence to justify these labels or even a connection to Russia.

Despite the baselessness of these titles, they are frequently used to smear politicians in easy, but hollow political attacks. However, these claims are much more problematic and sinister than the usual ad hominem political attack: they conflate Russia and Russians with antiquated and xenophobic Cold War era ideas of Russia being untrustworthy and conniving.

While xenophobia towards Russia and Russians is still a largely acceptable convention within political discourse in the United States, Russophobia should be just as unacceptable as other forms of xenophobia. In a country that prides itself on being a marketplace of ideas and values both the diversity of beliefs and people, such anti-Russia rhetoric should not be tolerated. Russophobia is antithetical to the tolerance and openness to ideas that the United States triumphs over valuing.

​This blatant Russophobia has been espoused American politicians and high-ranking officials alike, without muchcontest or pushback. James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence stated “the Russians, who typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor” on a televised interview with NBC. The former FBI Director James Comey claimed that “They’re [Russia] are coming after America”. These comments are just a few of a multitude instances of high-ranking officials making remarkably Russophobic statements.

Top officials professing Russophobic ideas at the highest levels of American political culture while giving them an undeserved and worrying legitimacy. The use of Russophobic rhetoric and the demonization of Russia by those who are supposed to be at the forefront of American democracy directly contradicts the tolerance for ideas and people that underpins so much of what Americans value. Spreading such sensationalized and largely baseless claims rooted in Russophobia is harmful to American democracy: it signals that xenophobia towards Russia and Russians is acceptable.

​Furthermore, in a media climate increasingly characterized by sensationalism, Russophobia has firmly entrenched itself in mainstream American media. From 2015 to 2018 cable news revenues rose by 38% and were rising steadily, despite cable news revenues typically decreasing in non-election years.

Sensationalism sells, especially in the wake of increased Russophobia in the media in the aftermath of the 2016 election. For example, a C-SPAN investigation found that its broadcast being interrupted by RT coverage was due to a routing glitch. However, this did not stop many mainstream news outlets capitalizing off the story by spreading misinformation that the broadcast interruption could have possibly been a hack and an attempt to undermine American democracy by Russia.

​While stories on Russia have taken over an increasingly large percentage of news coverage within the United States, Russian voices have historically been shut out of the media. With news coverage increasingly focused on not just the reporting of facts, but commentary as well, it is imperative that both American and Russian voices are featured for media consumers to receive a balanced perspective about issues that concern Russia. However, this is usually not the case. By not featuring Russian voices or Russian perspectives on issues and events involving Russia, American media effectively shuts out important perspectives on these issues. Russian commentators and Russian media sources, such as RT and Sputnik, are largely immediately discredited without any evaluation. While the U.S. prides itself on being a marketplace of ideas and perspectives, U.S. media consumers do not have full access to this marketplace. Without making a platform for Russian perspectives in political discourse and Russian voices media being almost universally discredits, they are unable to make truly informed decisions.

​Xenophobic attitudes, of any kind have no place in American political discourse. By acknowledging Russophobia in the same light as other forms of xenophobia can we achieve the values of diversity and tolerance that we pride ourselves on as Americans. Bringing new voices and perspectives to the table that have previously been ignored and demonized will only benefit our ability to make well informed political decisions. The consequences of not accepting Russophobia as a valid feature of American political discourse are many and far-reaching. For millions of Americans, greater acceptance and amplification of Russian voices and perspectives in political discourse will result in a more balanced view towards Russia and the Russian Americans that are part of their communities.

In a period where bilateral relations between Russia and the United States are at a historic low, it is not the time to further demonize Russia by continuing the trend of demonizing Russia in American political discourse. Instead, the United States should be looking towards Russian voices and perspectives that would provide a necessary contribution to the diversity of ideas and perspectives. An understanding and openness to Russian perspectives in our political conversations, would not just make the United States a more tolerant place, but provide opportunities cooperation and mutual understanding between the two countries. Opening more doors for cooperation between Moscow and Washington to work together on issues of which they share common interests could help set the course for a de-escalation of tensions between the two countries. If we want to enjoy a future in which better relations with Russia are possible, it is time to cancel Russophobia.

Alana Cross is a Policy Analyst at the Russian Public Affairs Committee (Ru-PAC).