Two competing narratives of "intention" are emerging from the first weeks of the Trump administration, both of which are nicely summarized in this piece by Jake Fuentes in Medium.
One narrative has it that the Trump administration is disorganized and blundering, and so its extremist policies are playing out chaotically.
The second view--more sinister and conspiratorial--is that every move by Trump and his inner circle is calculated for a maximum power grab and social manipulation. To test loyalties. To use the language of fascism by hiring "patriots" and firing "traitors" like Acting AG Sally Yates, who would dare to use her independent legal judgment in exercising prosecutorial discretion. To create distracting albeit harmful "shock events" like the immigration ban, while quietly doing far worse "behind the scenes." All with the end goal being a slow-boil autocratic, kleptocratic takeover of American democracy.
I have a third theory, though, which lands in a gray area between these two narratives, and I'm sure better-informed people have thought of this already.
I don't believe for a minute that Trump and his advisers are reading off a fascist playbook and carefully plotting a coup. And while most of them have no idea how government actually works, I don't think they're stupid and directionless either.
I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.
There is a fundamental aspect of human nature--a broader force--at play, and it's revealed over and over again in the way this kind of upheaval plays out around the world. You've seen all those "rules for surviving fascism" and op-eds from citizens of Venezuela and Eastern Europe that comprise sort of a bleak, "What to Expect When You're Expecting a Demagogue" guide. You've seen calls to "resist" in particular ways. And yet all of it feels a bit like a Kabuki play--with the acts playing out in predictable and inevitable ways that lead to a sense of futility.
I think it's because Trump and his administration are simply doing what comes naturally as opposed to intentionally; but what comes naturally happens to be an autocratic disregard for democracy and pursuit of a self-serving and fundamentally un-American agenda.
So where does that leave us, and by "us" I mean the rest of us--including Trump's supporters--who will inevitably suffer under this regime? I think it leaves us in the same place all humans are left: to answer to ourselves and our own consciences.
From a structural standpoint, the good news is that the United States is not Venezuela or Poland. It is comprised of 50 quasi-sovereign states with a lot of governmental power and ability to affect their residents' everyday lives in ways the federal government can't necessarily reach. It is this highly-disparate, 50-state federalist structure--unique to the world--that may yet prove a feature of political engineering that saves our democracy from a demagogue.
From a moral and human rights standpoint, we only have ourselves to answer to. In the end, societies are comprised of individuals, each of whom must ultimately reckon with their own consciences and values, and take calculated risks in accordance with them.
In the disorienting, paralyzing moment of asking "what can we do?" the answer is actually pretty simple.
Look in the mirror, think carefully, and act accordingly.