Clapper says Russians ‘genetically driven' to be untrustworthy — and no one even blinks

Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer, journalist and media analyst. She has lived and traveled extensively in the US, Germany, Russia and Hungary. Her byline has appeared at RT, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, The BRICS Post, New Eastern Outlook, Global Independent Analytics and many others. She also works on copywriting and editing projects. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook or at her website www.danielleryan.net.
Clapper says Russians ‘genetically driven' to be untrustworthy — and no one even blinks
The former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper thinks Russians have some sort of biological predilection to be an untrustworthy bunch. I wish I was making that up, but sadly, I’m not.

Clapper said it during last Sunday’s episode of Meet The Press on NBC, during a response to a question about Jared Kushner’s ties to Moscow. The Russians are “typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever” — was the exact quote.

There’s great irony in that comment by Clapper, with his own record of perjury, implying that an entire ethnicity can’t be trusted. So, of course, widespread outrage followed the blatantly xenophobic comment.

Nah, I’m only joking. No one actually noticed or cared. Chuck Todd, the interviewer, let the comment slide without even acknowledging that Clapper had said something untoward.

If there was a debate about Clapper’s comment and it was deemed somehow acceptable, that would be bad enough — but it’s actually worse than that, because anti-Russian sentiment is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche, that no one even notices when a high profile figure like Clapper makes a comment about the “genetics” of Russians in an effort to brand them as inherently devious and conniving.

But it shouldn’t be surprising. Unlike any other group of people, it’s been well-established that you can say pretty much whatever you like about Russians with no repercussions or backlash of any kind, particularly if you pass it off as comedy.

Take NBC’s comedy show Saturday Night Live. Their go-to Russian character, Olya Povlatsky, played by Kate McKinnon, has regularly crossed the line from comedy into xenophobia. Even the Guardian’s Shaun Walker called out one Olya skit as “veering pretty close to racism.”

The segments usually revolve around Olya telling the audience in various ways that everyone in Russia wants to be dead and that the country is a barren wasteland. Jokes involve Olya having no glass in her window frames, living with her ten sisters in one room, sleeping inside the carcass of a dog, wishing a war would come to her village and hoping she gets hit by a meteor or eaten by a bear. Asked whether she’s surprised the Olympics were coming to Russia, Olya says, “I’m surprised ANYONE is coming to Russia!”

Whenever Olya appears, you can be guaranteed SNL is about to serve up every banal stereotype about Russia in under 4 minutes.

Comedian Louis CK told an audience a few years ago that he once traveled to Russia to “see how bad life gets.” He put together a ten-minute long routine about how terrible life is in Russia and how “no one” has any money, which serves to perpetuate the ridiculous notion that Russians are all aimlessly wandering around wearing no shoes and begging for food.

It’s not difficult to imagine the reaction it would spark if a Russian comedian were to deliver the same kind of diatribe about the horrors of life in America. As journalist Dominic Basulto put it, it would “immediately be hailed as an example of the hate-filled propaganda speech filling Russian TV airwaves.”

This kind of hate-filled comedy, so pervasive in American popular culture, sets people up to not even notice when Clapper talks about Russians being genetically wired to be dishonest schemers. Replace the word 'Russians' with 'Jews' or 'Muslims' or 'Latinos' or 'African-Americans' — or any other group or ethnicity — and Clapper’s comment would sound simply outrageous. But, like I said, nothing is off limits when it comes to Russians.

Josh Barro, a Senior Editor at Business Insider is another good example. Barro regularly expresses his almost pathological hatred of Russia on Twitter.

I’m not sure whether his lowest point was when he suggested Russian national pride was a bizarre phenomenon since they have “so little to be proud of” — or when he stooped so low as to call the country a “dystopic shithole since the dawn of history”. It’s probably a tie. Then there’s CNN contributor Michael Weiss, who recently insinuated on Twitter that being married to a Russian is inherently suspicious.

Again, if Barro or Weiss were saying these things about other nationalities or ethnicities, there’s a good chance they would have faced some serious professional consequences by now. Not so when Russians are your target. Take your free pass and run with it.

Luckily, there are some journalists out there who still possess a basic sense of common decency. Freelance journalist Michael Sainato was one of the only people in American media who seemed to notice the offensive nature of Clapper’s comment.

In his piece for the Observer, Sainato wrote that the current political climate in the US, has “fostered xenophobia at the highest levels” and that Clapper’s comment goes “far beyond criticism of Putin and the Russian government."

Sainato also noted that the media had contributed to the “Russophobic rhetoric” by “irresponsibly elevating” conspiracy theorists as reliable sources on the Trump-Russia story.

Honestly, at this point, I don’t know which is worse: The casual xenophobia of a top former US official suggesting an entire ethnicity has a genetic predisposition toward lying — or the fact that no one noticed.

It reminded me of a depressing conversation I had with a Russian waitress in Saint Petersburg last year. She wanted to travel to the US, but was afraid to even apply for a visa. When I asked her why, she said she was afraid that Americans would be “suspicious” of her. I wonder how many other Russians feel just like her.

Sadly, they now have good reason to worry.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.