This year marks half a century since Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation appeared in English. Northwestern University professor Gary Saul Morson calls this work “the masterpiece of our time,” and there’s a backstory here.

After visiting the Soviet Union in 1919, California journalist Lincoln Steffens proclaimed, “I have seen the future and it works,” a claim repeated by many Western luminaries during the 1930s, as Malcolm Muggeridge recalled in Chronicles of Wasted Time. Solzhenitsyn showed how the USSR didn’t work, except as a vast prison camp, and confirmed that the first Communist state was much worse than anybody imagined. In some quarters, the revelations did not receive a warm welcome.

While the courageous Solzhenitsyn was being hailed around the world, U.S. President Gerald Ford declined to meet with the author. During an October 1976 debate, Ford proclaimed “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” As this confirmed, ignorance and reality dysphoria are not new problems in America. Had other politicians given Solzhenitsyn’s work the attention it deserved they might have gone easier on the people during difficult times.

Independent peasants known as “kulaks” resisted the collectivization of agriculture. During Stalin’s campaign to eliminate the kulaks as a class, as Solzhenitsyn noted, food was confiscated and even fishing in the rivers was prohibited. Jump ahead to January, 2020.

The CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier announces that a “novel coronavirus” has arrived stateside from China and will spread across the country. Quick to proclaim a state of emergency was California governor Gavin Newsom, who considered a statewide ban on freshwater sportfishing.

Newsom told the anglers “we are not cancelling the fishing season. We just want to delay, not deny, that season.” But he presented no scientific evidence that anglers on the state’s remote rivers and lakes posed a danger to public health.

The governor also closed nearly all beaches in southern California, including beach bathrooms, piers, promenades, and beach bike paths. In early April, 2020, police arrested a solitary paddleboarder near the Malibu pier. Gov. Newsom and his aides failed to show how a single person on the water posed a threat to public health. The governor also ordered many businesses, including wineries, to shut down their indoor operations, but he exempted Napa County from the state’s monitoring list.

That’s why the governor’s own PlumpJack Winery, purchased with Gordon Getty, remained open. Napa County is also home to the upscale French Laundry restaurant, where Newsom and lobbyist colleagues partied sans masks, which the governor demanded for ordinary people. None of the highly restrictive rules for private gatherings were in force for the governor and his friends. In similar style, while many of the state’s government schools were shut, Gov. Newsom’s four children received in-person instruction at an exclusive private school in Sacramento County.

Across the country in New York State, elderly patients, the group most vulnerable to Covid, were forced into nursing homes where thousands perished. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) boss Dr. Anthony Fauci, who claimed to represent science, didn’t want to talk about it.

From the nursing home victims on down through school shutdowns and the ban on paddleboarding and fishing, the government pandemic regime reflected an authoritarian mindset more than any quest to keep the people safe. As Solzhenitsyn noted, the Soviet Communist Party elite enjoyed special powers and privileges, so it’s more a matter of degree than kind.

Stalin set out to eliminate the kulaks as a class and murdered millions. American President Gerald Ford tried to free Eastern Europe with his mouth. American politicians such as Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo, in alliance with government bureaucrats such as Dr. Fauci, caused vast damage to the people while claiming to keep them safe. From the Red Terror to white coat supremacy, it’s all about memory against forgetting.