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Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Rome, Ga., on March 9.NICOLE CRAINE/The New York Times News Service

A portrait of Donald Trump’s week. A former chief of staff confirms a report that he talked of the many “good things” Hitler did. He publicly mocks Joe Biden’s stutter. He again libels the woman whom a judge ruled he raped, journalist E. Jean Carroll, even as he leans on a corporate supporter to front him the $88-million he owes her (plus interest) for libelling her previously.

He boasts online that one of his “first acts” as president would be to free from jail the “hostages” convicted in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. He invokes presidential immunity against charges of falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments to a porn star – before he became president. A long-time employee tells of secretly removing boxes of classified documents from the resort even as Department of Justice officials were on-site questioning Mr. Trump about the same documents.

All in all, a bit of a slow week for him. But then, it’s only Wednesday.

The point has been made often: had any other politician done or said even one of these things, his or her career would have been over long ago. And yet chances are you may have missed most of these stories. They were reported, yes, but not with the front-page emphasis accorded to, say, the Princess of Wales’s adventures in photo-editing.

Is this because the media wants Mr. Trump to win? Of course not. But it is true that the media have served, from the start, as Mr. Trump’s involuntary enablers. And the worse his behaviour has become, the more this has proved to be the case. Mr. Trump once said he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue without losing any votes. By now it’s not even clear it would make it above the fold.

Of course, media choices are hard to separate from reader interests. We have all become inured to Mr. Trump’s crimes, through sheer repetition. But there’s a specific media component to this that’s worth unpacking.

As I’ve argued before, Mr. Trump’s behaviour is best understood as that of a psychopath, equal parts narcissistic and nihilistic. That he will always, without fail, do the opposite of the good or right or smart thing is not accidental. His sense of self-worth depends upon devaluing everything else – whatever is generally valued.

It’s entirely possible he can’t help himself. But it’s also devastatingly effective, particularly as a media strategy. Because he has committed so fully to the bit, Mr. Trump has succeeded in cracking the lens through which the media traditionally reports on political misbehaviour. Because he never conforms to any standard, he is never held to any. He has so lowered expectations that he can never fall short of them.

This is critical, because news coverage of scandals is wholly a function of expectations. It’s not news, that is, if someone behaves exactly as expected. It’s only news if they depart from expectations in some way: either exceeding them, or ideally falling short.

Mr. Trump, it is true, consistently lowers the bar: With each new barbarity, he subverts even the subterranean expectations he has set for himself. But since he does it so regularly, that in itself has become part of the expectations. We are into the second derivative of psychopathy.

So Mr. Trump winds up being graded on his own, constantly sliding curve. But there’s another crucial component of this: his evident lack of concern for the standards he is violating. He doesn’t just offend against every law, custom, principle or ideal. He does so openly and avowedly.

Along with expectations, this disarms two more elements of traditional news coverage: discovery (“news is what someone doesn’t want known”) and shame.

There’s a script to these things, after all, that everyone is supposed to follow. For example, if a politician poses as a hawk on Russia; if he has a long record of publicly opposing it; but if he is then found to have been secretly encouraging Russia’s war aims – and if he is clearly shamed by the discovery – then the media know what to do: Set upon and devour him.

But if instead he publicly and repeatedly endorses Russia’s positions, advances Russian objectives, and invites Russian interference, all without a trace of shame, then the media are baffled. We genuinely don’t know how to cover it. Before long we give up trying.

You can’t catch someone out doing something he does not bother to hide. You can’t shame someone who does not feel any shame. And you can’t mark someone solely against expectations without becoming a part of the very process of moral decline you are describing. Until we learn these three lessons, Mr. Trump will continue to benefit from the media’s indulgence.

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