Less than three months ago, protesters at Standing Rock were celebrating a hard-fought victory. The Obama administration had halted construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Months of protests, which came to a crescendo with police turning water hoses on demonstrators in subfreezing temperatures, culminated in the Standing Rock Sioux learning a pipeline would not cut under Lake Oahe near their reservation and sacred lands.
Enter President Donald Trump. Earlier this month, Trump reversed former President Barack Obama's decision and allowed the pipeline project to proceed. Trump cited the jobs the pipeline construction would create. Now, the Standing Rock encampment has burned to the ground. On Wednesday, only a few protesters remained, facing eviction. Nine or 10 people, including Mic's Jack Smith IV, were arrested as police swept into the camp. As of Wednesday evening, around 50 holdouts remained in the camp — down from 8,000 in December — as authorities declined to arrest all the remaining holdouts. Reuters reported that by Thursday morning, only a few dozen protesters remained in the camp and would not be arrested if they did not interfere with cleanup of the site. Those who remained in the camp set fires to tents and monuments. The conclusions of a monthslong protest comes as the company building the pipeline said earlier this week that oil could begin flowing as soon as the first week of March.
As Mic's Zak Cheney Rice writes, "It's hard to imagine a grimmer — or quieter — demise for the banner indigenous protest of the 21st century." Few expected Trump to preserve Obama's stoppage of the pipeline project. But where the White House came down on this battle over land and water rights on the border of North and South Dakota signals a major policy shift in responding to protest. The past eight years saw nationwide demonstrations over the environment, police shootings, voting rights, reproductive rights, public unions and much more. These protests sometimes forced states to reverse policies under massive public pressure. In other situations, they attracted national media attention and drew federal involvement.
Trump has repeatedly questioned the motives of people speaking up in the political process, and how the White House handles activism could be one of Trump's most important changes to the country. The clearing of the Standing Rock camp is revealing: Obama handed the "water protectors" there a victory; Trump put them in a position to be arrested. How, then, will future demonstrations play out in the Trump era?
This is Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America — and how it affects you. Welcome to the political newsletter that had to reinforce Tom Cotton's spine.
• Today: With arrests and fires at Standing Rock, activism receives a very different reception under Donald Trump.
• More: Trump has reversed Barack Obama's guidance that transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
• Even more: These town halls have gotten raucous.
• Watching: Mic will be covering CPAC and the Democratic Party leadership battle this weekend. Get up to date below and follow our Mic correspondents on the ground.
• Trump's agenda today: Meeting with manufacturing CEOs. Calling Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Holding a listening session on human trafficking. Attending a dinner with the Business Council, a nonpartisan group of business leaders.
The decision on transgender students
Trump has rescinded Obama's Title IX guidance that said schools must allow students to use facilities matching their gender identities. Obama's 2016 directive was a flashpoint among progressives and conservatives, with the left praising the decision and the right extremely critical of it. Deciding what gender-segregated facilities transgender students can use will apparently be up to the states again.
Trump's move is a win for the evangelical community that strongly supported him during the campaign. And it moves the president to the middle of a political issue that contributed to the downfall of at least one prominent politician. Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory spearheaded passage of a March state law that, among other things, required state residents to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth. The ensuing political firestorm brought low approval ratings for McCrory, who narrowly lost re-election in November, and economic woes for North Carolina. Now-Vice President Mike Pence, who as governor of Indiana championed his own unpopular law allowing discrimination against LGBT people, opposed Obama's transgender bathroom guidance last year.
This fight is not over yet. In April, the Supreme Court will consider the case of a transgender teen who sued his Virginia public school to use the bathroom that matches his gender identity. Gavin Grimm won his case in a lower federal court, and it's possible the Supreme Court could tie in determining Grimm's case, preserving the lower court's ruling in favor of the 17-year-old. A favorable result for Grimm would set a national standard for transgender rights and give more students the right to use the bathroom of their choice.
Rowdy town halls
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton got an earful Wednesday evening. In a high school auditorium holding 2,000 people, Cotton heard from numerous constituents angry about Trump, a planned repeal of the Affordable Care Act and much more. One woman told Cotton she was not a paid protester. Another asked, "If you call yourself a Christian ... how do you support a man who says he grabs women by the pussy?" Another questioner asked the crowd how many people were affected by the ACA. Hundreds of people stood up. Cotton is not alone in facing angry constituents: Across the country, people are seeking out their elected leaders and packing public meetings.
Two narratives are emerging around these town halls. The first is that this anger is real, and Republicans had better beware of its consequences. Packing town halls to pressure elected officials is a cornerstone of the "Indivisible Guide," a political organizing document compiled by former Democratic Party officials that grew out of the Women's March. No one can predict how early-2017 town hall outrage will affect elections in November 2018. Yet filmmaker Michael Moore, a leading proponent of opposing Trump, said progressive activism so far makes the "tea party look like preschool."
Except that's not a narrative the president and others on the right necessarily believe. The Washington Times dismissed "activists swamping Republicans" as the doing of the "left-wing protest machine." The Washington Examiner said these town halls "copy tea party tactics." And Rep. Jason Chaffetz said attendees to his town hall wanted to "bully and intimidate" him.
Members of Congress will have to make a calculation as to whether they believe outraged town hall attendees are a small, paid minority or the tip of an iceberg that could bring sweeping change in the midterm elections. Remember, some Democrats dismissed the effectiveness of the tea party in 2010, and the party has not come close to retaking the House of Representatives since then.
Two political gatherings you need to watch
Conservatives will gather for their annual Conservative Political Action Conference riding high, in control of both Congress and the White House for the first time since 2006. But the gathering just outside Washington, D.C., must also answer a key question: Now what? For eight years, CPAC was a place for leaders of the conservative movement to connect with grassroots supporters to plot a takeover of the American political system. But given bubbling outrage at town halls, low approval ratings for the new Republican president and indecision on how to advance a conservative agenda, having power is shaping up to be far more challenging than fighting for it. Trump and Pence will headline the event, as will governors and senators. Mic's Celeste Katz will be monitoring things on the ground throughout the weekend.
Meanwhile, Democrats will gather in Atlanta to pick the new Democratic National Committee chair. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison and former labor secretary Tom Perez are the frontrunners. Ellison is backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and the party's progressive wing, while former Vice President Joe Biden and the establishment are behind Perez. The dark horse is Pete Buttigieg, the gay 33-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana. A Politico survey of party voting members suggests the race will be very close. Whoever becomes the new DNC head will be one of Trump's leading opponents. The new chair will take on the role of party spokesperson and chief organizer to make gains against the GOP in 2018 and beat Trump in 2020. Mic's Andrew Joyce will be in Atlanta covering the vote and ensuing drama over the future of the Democratic party.
News and insight you cannot miss:
• Regardless of what happens in Atlanta, Sanders loyalists are taking over Democratic state parties across the country. Hawaii, Nebraska and Washington are all controlled by Sanders supporters. (Wall Street Journal)
• Remember how Democrats were worried about what would come out of Scott Pruitt's emails? They had reason to raise questions about Pruitt's ties to fossil fuel companies. Just days after Pruitt was confirmed as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, emails from his time as attorney general of Oklahoma showed he worked closely with energy industry companies he is now in charge of regulating. In some cases, those companies literally wrote the views Pruitt shared publicly about energy regulations. (CNN)
• In case you need more, here's a more detailed breakdown of how changes to deportation orders will affect immigrants. (Mic)
• "There's no place in America for hatred." Pence spoke at the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis where tombstones were vandalized. (Mic)
• Another example of Trump's agency heads operating differently than the president: "Tillerson, Kelly head to Mexico amid deep strains in bilateral ties." If you're a foreign leader, do you pay attention to what Trump says? Or what his security and diplomatic designees assure you is true? (Washington Post)