Carlson: Mesmerized by history

I was mesmerized. I felt chills running up and down my spine as I watched the Jan. 6 hearings.

I have been a history buff most of my life. My love and fascination with history probably began when I was in grade school in Springfield, Illinois. I could look out the classroom window and see the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law. In addition, whenever relatives visited, we would take them to New Salem, the village where young Lincoln lived and worked; to Lincoln’s home; and also to Lincoln’s tomb. Often, I tried to imagine what it was like to live in Lincoln’s turbulent times, times when the future of the United States as “united” states was in question.

People in my generation have lived through a number of turbulent times in history, both American history and world history. I remember vividly, as a sophomore in high school, the night of the Cuban missile crisis. I was sitting alone in my room, doing my homework and wondering if the world would exist in the morning. Then, in my college years, I experienced the turmoil of the Vietnam War. Numerous friends from high school were serving in Southeast Asia; two close friends died there. Then there were Watergate, the fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now the war in Ukraine — a lot of crises, more than anyone would wish to live through.

But the Jan. 6 insurrection, on which the hearings are now shedding such a searing light, is an event that is as frightening as any of the other crises I’ve lived through. The only parallel to the insurrection, as a clear threat to our democracy from within, is our nation’s Civil War, and even that comparison isn’t perfect.

No one would say that the cause of the Civil War goes back to the mind of Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee. But as the hearings reveal, the entire trauma to our nation seen in the Jan. 6 insurrection goes back to the mind of one man — Donald Trump. Despite all evidence and advice from those closest to him, despite every one of his claims of voter fraud being proven false, Trump has insisted on the groundless fiction that he won the election.

I found it particularly chilling to hear in the testimonies given from many of those closest to Trump the words “crazy” and “out of touch with reality” to describe his state of mind. In watching again the video of the Jan. 6 assault on our Capitol and our democracy, I realized that I was witnessing the ability of one man to convince so many Americans to join him in his fictional world.

Nixon was unable to do that, as evidenced by Republicans who were as committed as Democrats to uncover the truth in the Watergate hearings. But in the Jan. 6 investigation, only two Republicans are serving on the committee, and both will likely be punished for their service to our nation in the next election.

Both Rep. Cheney and Rep. Kinzinger know that refusing to serve on the Jan. 6 committee would have been the safe and smart move, career-wise. But both Cheney and Kinzinger know that serving their country means being on the right side of history, not on the right side of Trump.

As will be said to the witnesses giving testimony in the hearings, I say to Cheney and Kinzinger, “I thank you for your courageous service to your country.”