Use Your Discernment (So Long as You Discern Nothing Different) 

Written 6 November 2022

There’s a shrinking number of celebrities in whom we Americans place our collective trust. A very small number, indeed, for whom, no matter the direction toward which our political preferences incline us, there’s near universal veneration. 

Take, as one example, the late Alex Trebek, whose name was, and yet remains, synonymous with the thinking man’s favorite gameshow. Despite his Canadian birth (a demerit of which an otherwise spotless record can never be cleansed), Trebek was, while alive, the type of man whom everyone adored. Robin Williams, the comedic genius who fell victim to the terror of self-violence, was, throughout the course of his dazzling career, another person whom everyone loved. He exuded a warmth that his millions of fans delighted to bask in, by which everyone felt him or herself deeply touched. 

Among the living, we might count the likes of Denzel Washington and Dolly Parton, Keanu Reeves and Josh Groban, the announcer Joe Buck and the television personality Oprah Winfrey, as the most prominent figures at whom no reasonable person could possibly look disapprovingly. 

Thus, when any one member of this exalted group of the universally “liked” speaks out on a political issue, especially one concerning the future of the teetering republic in which we live, Americans are apt to take note and listen. 

Being one such American, I was especially keen to hear what the great and powerful Oprah Winfrey had to say about the impending midterm elections in which, according to every “legitimate” poll I’ve studied, the Republicans are expected to enjoy an historic victory. (The caveat, of course, is that these polls, to which we sacrifice the better part of our good sense, are highly prone to error and, for that reason, probably undeserving of our trust). In the Senate, they’re projected to win at least two, but probably four seats, while in the House, their numbers are expected to swell by no fewer than thirty. Many of the gubernatorial races are likewise expected to go “red”, as are countless school board and state legislature seats. 

I wondered, in light of the dark clouds gathering on the Democratic Party’s horizon, and the bright, sunny days to which its Republican opponents are primed to awaken, exactly what Oprah Winfrey had to say? I asked myself if, as one of the few remaining universally beloved celebrities, this is the type of subject on which she ought to weigh in? Would she not be at risk, by her doing so, of alienating a large segment of her audience? Is she the type of prominent figure from whom political guidance is, to the seeker’s edification, sought? The image of her that occupies my mind is one of a disinterested media mogul and talk show host, to whom, as though it were a daily rite, millions of well-to-do, upper class women faithfully tune in, and by whom no small number of those same lives have been changed for the better. 

You’ll excuse my feeling of shock, then, when I watched a video posted to her eponymous Oprah Daily website (to which I was warmly encouraged to subscribe. I’ve not yet made up my mind if I will). In the video, Ms Winfrey, straining to read the teleprompter set just a few inches before her, announces her endorsement of a slew of candidates running for state and federal office. If, in a hypothetical world, she were a resident of Pennsylvania, she assures us that she would cast her vote for John Fetterman, the unintelligible stroke-victim against whom her former talk show guest and employee, Dr. Mehmet Oz, is running.

Continuing with the hypothetical, Ms Winfrey asserts that, if she lived in North Carolina, she’d vote for “Sister” Cheri Beasely; if in Florida, for Val Demmings; if in Wisconsin, for Mandela Barnes; if in Nevada, for Cathrine Masto-Cortez; if in Texas, for the perennial failure, Robert “Beto” O’Rourke; and if in Georgia, Raphael Warnock and (the rightful incumbent) Stacy Abrams. 

No sooner had I heard this list of names than I was overcome by the realization that Ms Winfrey was, by all available evidence, an unabashed partisan! She was, so far as I could tell, undeviatingly supportive of Democrats. No! With a gasp and a tremble, I nearly fell out of my chair. 

Upon the restoration of my senses, and with the aid of a quick Google search, I soon learned that she is, in fact,a stalwart Democrat! In Greek tragedy, this critical moment of discovery into which I stumbled would be called, anagnorisis. When Oedipus, the parricide and mother-lover, finally realizes the horrible truth of his identity and, with it, the enormity of his crime, anagnorisis is at play. As it pertains to Oprah, all along, I thought she was a disinterested cultural heroine, a titan of industry from whom no such blatant partisanship and bald factional allegiance would ever come. I was, in the span of that three-minute video posted on her website, turned about and proved completely wrong. 

After providing us with a list of her preferred candidates, all of them Democrats, Ms Winfrey then stared at the screen and delivered the following exhortation: “Use your discernment”. “Use your discernment”, she said, and vote for these “clear choices” by whom “our values of inclusion, community, and compassion” will be best exemplified and most energetically advanced. 

By and large, this is advice with which I tend to agree: to have and use one’s discernment is what differentiates us from the mindless beasts. To be clear-thinking, open-minded, incisive, and shrewd is what distinguishes us from the lower ape, the chimpanzee, the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal beyond whom, in all our sapient glory, we’ve so gracefully evolved. 

But, I ask, is it really so “discerning” to vote for a group of (so far as I can tell) thoroughly unimpressive individuals just because they belong to the same party? Because they sing harmoniously to one ideological tune? Because they march in lockstep with one another? Is it the height of sagacity to choose candidates who are, for all intents and purposes, exactly same? Who promote the same agenda? Who desire more centralized control? Is it the exercise of good judgment to champion everyone who thinks exactly the same thing, and seldom, if ever, dares to stray from the party line? 

On the contrary, to approach your selection of candidates in this way would be rather undiscerning, I think. In fact, it would be the very destruction of discernment. To employ your faculty of reason as God intended, you’d scrutinize each and every option between which you’ve been asked to choose. You’d think slowly, deeply, and, above all, independently about who and what would be the best choice for you and for the country. You’d not be shackled by this or that ideological fetter. You’d not be tightly, inescapably bound to a prescribed point of view. 

You would use your discernment and, against Ms Winfrey’s wishes, you’d think for yourself. Autonomous and intelligent, you’d be your own person. You’d open up and turn the gears of that divine thinking apparatus encased by your skull—your wonderfully complex brain—and put it to vigorous use. And, in so doing, you might realize, as I realized, that Oprah is not the type of character whom we all ought to emulate, adore, and listen to. She is, unlike Alex Trebek and Denzel Washington, a partisan activist with a very clear and slanted agenda. 

That much, at least, requires very little power of discernment to see. 

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