How much damage can President Trump actually do? My former colleague Ben Wittes coined the most succinct description of the Trump administration when he described one of its first initiatives as “malevolence tempered by incompetence.” Since then, it has been tempting to gauge the damage of the administration’s efforts by calculating whether each is more malevolent or incompetent. Their incompetence is our solace, but it is thin solace.

But there is yet another way to measure the damage that this horrible constellation of people is doing: their example.

If the edifice of a democracy is a slow, hard-won accumulation of laws and norms, let us bow our heads in sorrow to the daily eradication of norms.

Which norms? Honesty. Transparency. Humility. Dignity. Restraint. Cooperation. And did I mention honesty?

Trump’s assertion that there is no conflict-of-interest law that can touch him is shocking in that he would approach the subject that way. The laws give the president some leeway only because of the presumption that a president would abide by certain norms. Trying to chisel and loophole your way into self-dealing was not one of those presumed norms.

So now we have a White House larded with family members, cronies and nearly wall-to-wall conflicts of past, present and future interests. Personal gain and maniacal pursuit of uncountable wealth is not only tolerated but also boasted of. And just this week, young Eric Trump bleated out a rich boy’s defense of nepotism as just “kind of a factor of life.” Good boy, Eric!

And what is the new norm of U.S. government? It is: Don’t worry about corruption, go for the gold, Smile, wink, build your network, reward your friends, enrich yourself, insist it’s the way the system works, because it now is openly understood to be the way the system works.

And to those who have seen the grotesque horror shows of Third World governments, warped, paralyzed and brought down by endemic, institutionalized corruption, well, goodbye to American exceptionalism! We are sliding into the sewer of the worst that human nature can dress up as a government.

And it smells just like rotting fish.