Russia Is Boring

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the start of the plenary session at the G-20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, on Nov. 15, 2014.  (Kevin Lamarque, Pool/AP Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the start of the plenary session at the G-20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, on Nov. 15, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque, Pool/AP Images)

I never thought I’d say this, but I am tired of hearing about Russia.

That’s hard for me to admit, given that I’ve devoted my entire graduate education and more than four years of my life—so far—to living in Russia and other former USSR republics. But the news cycle that seems to find Russia under every rock has become too repetitive and overwhelming for me to bear any longer.


Without question, it’s clear that Moscow tried to exploit Americans’ political views through social media during the 2016 presidential election. Not only have America’s intelligence communities determined as much, but the heads of the social media platforms that Russian-backed entities exploited concur. Donald Trump’s inner circle—be it his former national security adviser Mike Flynn or ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort—have ties to Moscow that point to possible collusion.

Julia Ioffe of The Atlantic recently reported that Donald Trump Jr. communicated with WikiLeaks via private messages on Twitter concerning damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Hope Hicks may have tried to hide emails concerning a mysterious meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians tied to the Kremlin. On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security told NBC News that the Russian government breached U.S. voting systems.

These stories are revealing but are few and far between. When we aren’t hearing groundbreaking news on the Russian investigation, which is not common, we’re inundated with talking heads discussing how shady Trump and his cronies are.

Yawn. We know already.

My problem with the news cycle is that it is ignoring white America’s complicity in the Kremlin’s meddling in the first place. If Russian bots can undo in one election cycle what it took centuries to build, does America have a democracy at all? And if we are to believe that disinformation campaigns turned the outcome for Trump (there is no evidence of that), why didn’t most voters of color cast ballots for him?

A lack of a self-reflective discourse in mainstream media’s coverage essentially scapegoats Russia for the debacle that is Donald Trump’s presidency. It’s one thing to cover the Russia investigation. It’s another to ignore or downplay why white people voted for a man who refused to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, even when America’s top intelligence agencies confirmed Putin’s role in attempting to undermine the U.S. political process.

Russia coverage devoid of this angle ignores the social chasms that compel white people to choose their race over allegiance to their country. I’m sorry, but it’s challenging for me to watch and read news of Russia’s threat to democracy when America is doing a great job of destroying it all by itself.


My cynicism is rooted in the knowledge of America’s barbaric resolve to strip black people of their rights to fully experience the democracy that, coincidentally, did not come under attack until Russia unleashed a legion of Twitter trolls.

America doesn’t afford me the luxury of binary analysis. I can’t just look at the Kremlin’s threats against America without recognizing the internal threats that Moscow actively attempted to exploit—threats that have a personal impact on my life as a black person. I don’t enjoy the full spectrum of citizenship; nor does the rest of black America.


We’ve endured more than 200 years of slavery, decades of Jim Crow, mob violence and voter suppression. These horrendous periods still haunt America. The Supreme Court invalidated a key part of the Voter Rights Act in 2013. GOP-led state legislatures actively passed voter-ID laws that make voting harder. America’s police state kills black people at disproportionate rates, and governments at the federal and state levels are actively undermining health care access.

I can’t flow with the “Russia is attacking our democracy” angle because America is doing a better job of it. Of course, we can admit that Russian meddling isn’t good, but I’d be more inclined to engage media that explores Americans’ complicity in it. I know what’s wrong with this country, and it isn’t Russia. It’s racist white Trump supporters. If they had followed the conscience of people of color (especially black women), American democracy wouldn’t be under the threat it’s currently in.


To see countless white men (former ambassadors, think tank types, legislators and the running chorus of talking heads) appear on network television extolling the virtues of America’s so-called democracy that Russia wants to undermine annoys me.

As journalists, it is our job to report the facts. That racism both fueled Trump’s victory and has consequently made us more susceptible to foreign attack only makes the stakes of the Russia investigation even higher. But major networks and print outlets will not lead with stories exploring white America’s obsession with racism. That would upset too many advertisers—and white viewers. But it would be the beginning of the type of intersectional Russia coverage that could help an audience better understand Russia and America’s imperial aims and how election meddling plays a role in it.


As soon as Trump is arrested or forced to resign, I fear interest in Russia will fade, and that would be a pity. There has rarely been a better time than now to learn about the complexities of Russian imperialism and the lessons it can teach us about America’s shortcomings at home and abroad.


Both nations actively vie for world supremacy through a range of tactics, including political interference in some cases and through military force in others. Our media can play a vital role of explaining U.S.-Russia relations within this context. Such deep dives require media outlets and the white men who run them to understand how white supremacy and empire work.

Another problem with our media’s fixation on Russia-gate is that other important news stories are getting little to no attention. Trump is belligerently calling for a nuclear arms race. As late as the mid-1980s, there were some 75,000 nuclear weapons in the world, mostly between Russia and the United States. Calm-headed diplomacy between Moscow and Washington, D.C., over the decades cut that figure down to around 15,000.


The new Nuclear Posture Review clearly shows that America isn’t interested in cutting anymore nukes; nor is Trump interested in using his alleged good relationship with Putin to convince the Russian leader to reverse his own lust for nukes. All eyes are on North Korea’s nuclear program, but Trump’s love for nuclear weapons may very well convince Russia that there is no need to scale back its arsenal, making the world a less safe place.

And while politics between Russia and America on Earth are frayed, their relationship in space is strong. Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, and NASA announced the Deep Space Getaway program last year, part of a larger project to send humans to the moon. It is one of the few areas in which both nations must get along. Exploring why Moscow and Washington are cooperating in space would reveal that the two nations aren’t always at odds and that they do need each other.


And as much as the media love to cover Putin as an authoritarian the Russian people foolishly support, it is important to consider that most of white America supported Trump, who seemingly envies his Russian counterpart’s anti-democratic ways. Indeed, Putin and Trump supporters may have a lot in common.

Simply viewing Russia as an attacker of American values without investigating how Americans are destroying them in far worse ways isn’t good Russia reporting. It simply blames Russia for Trump. That is insulting to the Russian people and Americans who know better.


Until mainstream newsrooms make proper paradigm shifts in how they report the complexities of why Russia is doing what it is doing and why Americans are susceptible to it, we’ll continue to suffer through one-sided reporting that indirectly weakens the democracy that American media strive to defend.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.



A couple of thoughts:

Russia did produce a lot of propaganda. But what I saw of it, looked a lot like propaganda I wouldn’t be shocked to see coming from American outlets. It’s pernicious and we should stop it but we have an underlying problem with propaganda that runs far deeper than Russia’s election interference.

As for why more black people didn’t vote for Trump, based on what I saw, Russia wasn’t trying to get black people to vote for Trump.

Russia seemed to pursue a tactic of helping Trump win by stoking racial tensions. There being a lot more white people in America than blacks and hispanics.

The pieces of propaganda identified as being from Russia I saw weren’t only pro-Trump pieces. Some of them were extremely heavy handed pieces aimed at progressives and black people as well.