For a few short weeks in May of 2018 a curious yet fierce debate raged throughout the internet. Nothing as pedestrian as the Lincoln-Douglas debates, nor as monumental as the cola wars of the mid-1980s, yet still, the country was captivated. Did he say “Yanny” or did he say “Laurel”?
The Yanny vs. Laurel debate centered on a 2007 recording of opera star Jay Aubrey Jones speaking the word “Laurel”. Yet, depending on the background noise, frequency, and the speed at which the recording is played, countless people heard the name “Yanny”. One recording, two distinctly different words, and a nation deeply divided over what they heard. Flash forward a year and some change and that is what we have today. One conversation, two vastly different narratives, and a nation deeply divided over what they heard. A Yanny vs. Laurel impeachment.
This is not what an impeachment should be predicated on. In 1868, Andrew Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in violation of the Tenure of Office Act. In 1972 there was an actual break-in at the Watergate complex and Nixon covered it up. In the late 1990s Bill Clinton committed perjury, suborned perjury, and obstructed justice in depriving a woman, Paula Jones, of a fair trial. In all three cases there was an affirmative, undeniable, and unlawful act. There was no question whether the underlying act ever actually occurred. The question was whether it warranted removal from office.
In today’s impeachment drama there is no plain, undeniable, underlying crime. There exists only one seemingly innocuous phone call between world leaders, and two vastly different interpretations of what was said. Trump supporters insist they hear a president keeping his word. Trump has always maintained that other western countries should contribute to the defense of Ukraine, and such is evident in the phone call. Trump campaigned on the premise of rooting out corruption, and his supporters hear him asking Ukrainian President Zelensky to work with Attorney General Barr on such. All Americans have at least claimed to want to get to the bottom of 2016 election interference, and Trump supporters hear that in the phone call. Trump supporters hear the word “Laurel”, plain and simple.
How then is it that those in favor of impeachment hear the conversation in such a different way? How are we on the verge of an impeachment based on a secondhand account of a phone call that was not itself illegal? Through the addition of extraneous sound, false narratives, and theatrics. Much like Yanny vs. Laurel, by supplying additional background noise, those focused on removing the duly elected president have, in the minds of some, changed the spoken word.
In listening to the pro-impeachment crowd, one would hear terms like “digging up dirt on an opponent” and “quid pro quo”, even when such terms are provably absent from the Trump-Zelensky phone call. It is the impeachment hungry Democrats, in conjunction with a complicit media, that has supplied such incorrect language and eagerly arrived at false conclusions. They have turned a great many in this country into the “Yanny” group. Hearing something that plain and simply is not there.
Where does the idea that Trump asked a foreign government to “dig up dirt on an opponent” come from? It certainly doesn’t come from the transcript of the phone call. It comes from the carefully crafted narrative of Adam Schiff. Presented to the public prior to any supposed whistleblower complaint being released. Trumpeted at every turn in order to ensure that an impeachment hungry left would hear only the words he wanted them to. A group excited to hear the word “Yanny” where clearly it was “Laurel”. Dig up dirt instead of look into corruption. They consistently and wrongly tell a susceptible group what they are going to hear and, not surprisingly, the willing subjects are manipulated into hearing just that. “Yanny” instead of “Laurel”.
President Trump did not ask a foreign official to dig up dirt on an opponent, he asked him to look into foreign interference in the 2016 election. That used to be a pretty big deal for Democrats, until of course the Mueller Report came out. Trump did not pressure Zelensky to create propaganda on a Democratic primary candidate, he asked him to work with the Attorney General on a corruption investigation. President Trump did not withhold military aid from an ally for political gain, rather, he gave that ally actual military weapons, more than the pillows and blankets the previous administration sent Ukraine.
Last year, to settle a fun little debate, Americans were eager to argue, over Facebook or Twitter, whether they heard “Laurel” or “Yanny”, when all they really had to do was strip away the extraneous noise and go to the original 2007 recording to hear “Laurel”. This year, all Americans have to do to avoid a massively destructive debate is go to the actual transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call. Yanny vs. Laurel would have been much simpler had it just been written down. Fortunately for us this year, the transcript of the call was.