On Tuesday's edition of CNN's "New Day," John Avlon marked the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre — and warned that it is everyone's responsibility to stand up for free expression and prevent the government from trampling on dissent.
"For a guy who's been dead for nearly 70 years, George Orwell has never been hotter," said Avlon. "Sales of his dystopian novel 1984 surged to the top of the charts after President Trump's inauguration." He noted the similarities between Trump's attacks on "fake news" and the assaults on truth by the all-powerful state laid out in Orwell's novel: "The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."
"As we confront the rise of nationalism at home and abroad, [Orwell] reminds us that 'nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism ... a communist and a fascist are somewhat nearer to each other than either is to a democrat,'" said Avlon. "And journalists' insistence on a fact-based debate is entirely consistent with Orwell's admonition that 'freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.'"
Avlon also reminded his viewers that even with Trump in charge, the risk of Orwell-style totalitarianism in the West is "comparatively quaint" next to many other parts of the world. "Hundreds, maybe thousands of students were murdered at a pro-democracy rally by the Chinese government" thirty years ago to the day, he said — and CNN and other newsrooms had reporters covering the event to hold them to account.
Avlon reminded viewers that in the years since, "the Chinese government has effectively disappeared 'Tank Man' and the Tiananmen Square massacre from their national memory" with a brutal policy of censorship across all forms of media — with the effect that 80 percent of Chinese citizens haven't even seen the infamous footage known around the rest of the world.
Despite this, Avlon noted, big tech firms in the U.S. not only overlook China's abuses, they actively comply with their rules in order to do business there.
"Orwell's greatest enemy was totalitarianism, and its handmaidens of ignorance and intolerance, as illustrated by the three slogans of his fictitious Ministry of Truth: 'War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.'" Avlon concluded. "It's up to all of us who count ourselves as free to keep George Orwell 'fiction' in the 21st Century."