The Cartoon President Can’t Deal With a Real Crisis

While I was writing this, the results of an independent autopsy of George Floyd ordered by the Floyd family were released.

Floyd died of ‘asphyxia due to neck and back compression,’ his family’s autopsy report finds — contradicting county’s initial exam

The independent autopsy appears to contradict information from the criminal complaint, which said that the autopsy “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation,” saying that “the combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.”

I don’t know if the independent autopsy found any “potential intoxicants.”

Last night, MSNBC’s Gadi Schwartz, reporting from Santa Monica, kept making the point that the looters and the protesters were separate groups. He was covering the looting; the protesting was going on elsewhere, he said. I suspect that’s true of most of this week’s protesting — much of the looting is being done by opportunists taking advantage of the moment, not by protesters. And then there is a third group, which seems more interested in vandalism and confronting the police than protesting.

Much of today’s political commentary involves discussing who, exactly, is doing what in the streets of our major cities. Let’s start with The Creature:

Occupy Wall Street? Seriously? All they did was pound on drums and back up the toilets, as I recall.

Trump personal attorney and so-called “attorney general” William Barr supported his boss yesterday.

Barr went on to blame the violent incidents in Minneapolis and other cities on “far-left extremist groups,” wording that echoes comments made earlier in the day by President Donald Trump in which he suggested the chaos was caused by “ANTIFA and the Radical Left” in a series of tweets.

“Unfortunately, with the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful protests are being hijacked by violent radical elements,” Barr said. “In many places it appears the violence is planned, organized, and driven by far left extremist groups and anarchic groups using Antifa-like tactics.”

This won’t surprise you:

Neither Barr nor Trump has offered any evidence backing their assertions of who was behind the violence and vandalism. Barr did not take questions during his two-and-a-half minute statement delivered on short-notice to a pool television camera at Justice Department headquarters.

Some news sources are making a fair attempt to explain who is who. Mark Bray at WaPo:

Trump’s reckless accusations lack evidence, like many of his claims. But they also intentionally misrepresent the anti-fascist movement in the interest of delegitimizing militant protest and deflecting attention away from the white supremacy and police brutality that the protests oppose.

Short for anti-fascist in many languages, antifa (pronounced AN-tifa) or militant antifascism is a politics of social revolutionary self-defense applied to fighting the far right which traces its heritage back to the radicals who resisted Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in Italy and Germany a century ago. Many Americans had never heard of Antifa before masked antifascists smashed windows to shut down Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley, Calif., in early 2017 or confronted white supremacists in Charlottesville later that year — when a fascist murdered Heather Heyer and injured many more with his car in a way that frighteningly presaged the New York police officers who drove into protesters on Saturday in Brooklyn.

Based on my research into antifa groups, I believe it’s true that most, if not all, members do wholeheartedly support militant self-defense against the police and the targeted destruction of police and capitalist property that has accompanied it this week. I’m also confident that some members of antifa groups have participated in a variety of forms of resistance during this dramatic rebellion. Yet it is impossible to ascertain the exact number of people who belong to antifa groups because members hide their political activities from law enforcement and the far right, and concerns about infiltration and high expectations of commitment keep the sizes of groups rather small. Basically, there are nowhere near enough anarchists and members of antifa groups to have accomplished such breathtaking destruction on their own. Yes, the hashtag “#IamAntifa” trended on Twitter on Sunday, suggesting a very broad support of the politics of antifascism. Yet there is a significant difference between belonging to an organized antifa group and supporting their actions online.

Bray is the author of a book titled Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. I have not read it, but it’s gotten good reviews. I believe he knows what he’s talking about.

Neil MacFarquhar, the New York Times:

People associated with both the extreme right and left are being accused of igniting the conflagration. The Trump administration blamed what it called the radical left, naming antifa, a contraction of the word “anti-fascist” that has come to be associated with a diffuse movement of left-wing protesters who engage in more aggressive techniques like vandalism.

Others said white supremacists and far-right groups were responsible, pointing to online statements by adherents that the upheaval would hasten the collapse of a multiethnic, multicultural United States.

“The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday, although it was unclear on what legal authority he could make that call.

The president has periodically criticized antifa, but it was not clear that Mr. Trump’s declaration would have any real meaning beyond his characteristic attempts to stir up culture war controversy, attract attention and please his base.

Antifa is not an organization, and it does not have a leader, membership roles or any defined, centralized structure. It is a vaguely defined movement of people who share common protest tactics and targets.

More important, even if antifa were a real organization, the laws that permit the federal government to deem entities terrorists and impose sanctions on them are limited to foreign groups. There is no domestic terrorism law despite periodic proposals to create one.

“There is no authority under law to do that — and if such a statute were passed, it would face serious First Amendment challenges,” said Mary B. McCord, a former head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

It’s been widely reported (and seen on photographs and videos) that much of the destructive behavior — window breaking and fire starting — is being perpetrated by whites. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of those whites are lefty-ish anarchists, but I’d bet money a lot of them are right-wing and white nationalist agitators. There is much chatter on social media that far-right groups like “boogaloo” militia and “three percenters” are embedded in the protests to cause chaos. But I’ve not seen anything specific about that in news reports.

It may be a while before we find out who is really doing what, and of course we can’t trust any information that comes out of Bill Barr’s Department of Justice. The facts will have to wait for a change of administration.

A man identified as Wesley Somers starts a fire in the Nashville court house, May 30.

We’re missing a lot of critical information. We’re also missing leadership. Trump is hiding in the White House. Please read David Graham’s “America Has No President.”

Yesterday, when America needed real leadership, the office of the president stood dark—and vacant.

It is not that Trump has been silent. Far from it: His Twitter feed has been a supercharged version of its normal self. Trump has attacked Joe Biden, slurred reporters, insulted leaders on the front lines of protests, and claimed federal authority he doesn’t have. This is the sort of behavior we’d call unhinged from any other president, but the word has lost any power through its endless, justified invocation throughout his tenure. In any case, the tweeting suggests a president flailing around for a message that sticks and for a sense of control.

What has been missing is any sort of behavior traditionally associated with the presidency. Trump initially condemned George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer, but since then there have been no statements intended to quell anger, bridge divisions, or heal wounds. There have been no public appearances, either; Trump traveled all the way to Florida to watch a SpaceX rocket launch on Saturday, but hasn’t managed to travel in front of cameras for a formal statement.

During a teleconference Monday, Trump derided governors as “weak” in their response to protests, but he has cowered out of view, dithering about what to do except for armchair-quarterbacking those who are trying. As my colleague Peter Nicholas notes, even Richard Nixon went to speak with anti–Vietnam War protesters in 1970, trying to convey that he heard their complaints. It’s hard to imagine Trump doing something like that, because he has shown no interest in being perceived as caring about what his critics believe.

This is quintessential Trump, hiding under his desk while yelling at governors, in a conference call, to “dominate” the situation.

There are reports that some on his staff wanted him to address the nation — what a real president would do — but then decided anything Trump might actually say would just make things worse.

Paul Waldman:

In what will surely be remembered as one of the most extraordinary symbolic moments of this presidency, while smoke rose and police clashed with protesters right outside and the president retreated to his underground bunker, the White House turned off its exterior lights, leaving Trump’s residence in darkness. It’s as though he was saying, “I have nothing to offer you, so pretend I’m not here.”

See also Jennifer Rubin, “Trump Is in a Free Fall — for Now.”

Trump can’t meet this moment because he’s barely a human being, never mind a president. He’s a cartoon character, badly drawn and with limited scope, appearing in the wrong film — like Squiddly Diddly stumbling into Schindler’s List. He simply doesn’t have it in him — in either his intellect or personality — to plan ahead, to offer empathy, to appreciate the depth of a problem and see how to make a situation better. He can no more do those things than he can flap his arms and fly.

Well, right-wing America, this is what you wanted. I hope you’re happy.

Update: Now The Creature is threatening to send in federal troops. I hope this doesn’t turn into something even worse.