The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s toxic influence goes well beyond the headlines

President Trump in 2017. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

PRESIDENT TRUMP held a televised meeting with lawmakers last week, in part to rebut claims that he was unfit for the presidency. Since that meeting, he did and said some awful things that dominated the news. But part of Mr. Trump's toxic influence lies in how he undermines democratic values in less spectacular ways that go relatively unchallenged. In any other presidency, these violations of norms and standards, all of which occurred in the few days after Tuesday's meeting, would have produced widespread outrage:

● Following the publication of an unflattering book, Mr. Trump insisted that the country should have tougher libel laws that would make it easier for powerful public figures such as himself to sue writers who say things that are "false" — that is, to gag critics the president does not like.

● The president continued his paranoid smear campaign against the Federal Bureau of Investigation, suggesting that the FBI influenced the 2016 presidential election to his detriment and accusing a senior FBI investigator of committing treason for privately sending anti-Trump texts. He also implied that law enforcement scrutiny should focus on a political opponent, Hillary Clinton. The president's assault on a nonpartisan law enforcement agency and his insistence on prosecuting political opponents suggest he does not understand the differences between advanced democracies and authoritarian states. So, too, did his contention that the "Court System" is "broken and unfair," following a ruling he did not like.

The Washington Post Editorial Board offers a speech to President Trump that's more, shall we say, presidential than angry tweets. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post, Photo: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock/The Washington Post)

● With similar contempt for facts and fairness, the president called the Russia probes "the single greatest Witch Hunt in American history." The inquiries include a formal law enforcement investigation based on ample evidence of Russian involvement in the 2016 election, which even members of Mr. Trump's inner circle admit is compelling. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump suggested that Republicans should "take control," presumably to end the probes before they have fully accounted for the actions of a hostile foreign power and any Americans who may have helped. Congressional inquiries and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation into the hostile acts of an unfriendly foreign foe should be insulated from political pressure; instead, the president is demanding the pressure be ramped up.

● Mr. Trump's obsession with the Russian probes also was manifested in his suggestion that a U.S. senator, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), broke the law by releasing non-classified testimony at the request of the witness who delivered it to lawmakers. Mr. Trump's real objection was that the testimony undermined a conspiratorial narrative he had been building about the FBI's Russia investigation.

● Last but far from least, the president suddenly appeared to announce his opposition to a major surveillance bill the House was set to vote on in a matter of hours, apparently spurred by a characteristically hysterical segment on Fox News's morning show. Less than two hours later, he reversed course on Twitter, claiming that he had already fixed the problems with the surveillance policy. The president's cable-news addiction and resolute refusal to educate himself on the policies he is shaping led to a day of confusion on Capitol Hill.

All that in just the few days after Mr. Trump supposedly proved himself fit to lead.

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