I didn’t set out to compost Sean Hannity. It was something I settled on after considering several other options and rejecting them one by one. The first was leaving him in the basement indefinitely. That worked for a while. I could almost forget about him there, but then I would go down with a basket of laundry and see him and think, I have to do something.
I should explain: I don’t mean the man himself, but Hannity the book. It’s called “Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism.”
It’s part of a collection I have: right-wing culture war books from the Fox-News-angry-White-person’s superhero universe. Besides Hannity, I’ve got Lou Dobbs, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Rudy Giuliani and Bernie Kerik. The list is not comprehensive. It includes Karl Rove and Hugh Hewitt but not Newt Gingrich, Tucker Carlson or Donald Trump.
I got them from the book sale shelf at my public library, for a dollar each. I would find them tucked in with the everyday discards — the cookbooks and gardening volumes, Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy, Nora Roberts, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” The Fox folks seemed so bilious and out of place in that pleasant company, like toadstools among the daffodils. So I’d buy them up and take them home.
Not for reading, which brought no pleasure, but for quarantine. The books are dispatches from a phony war, the one Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes helped gin up and got obscenely rich on. If you believe, as I do, that the plutocrat propagandists of Fox, talk radio and the GOP are lying liars who have vandalized our politics and country, then finding a Hannity or Ingraham book is like finding one of their bricks.
The books piled up in my basement, out of circulation (which was the point) but always naggingly present, like asbestos. I wanted to be rid of them. And yet I paused, because even contemplating destroying books felt terrible. I remembered how, early in “Breaking Bad,” Walter White had shackled a drug dealer in a basement and didn’t know what to do with him. He made a list of arguments for and against murder. “Judeo/Christian principles,” he wrote. “Sanctity of life.” Then he strangled him.
For me, violence, even just to words on paper, was no answer. Recycling seemed too obvious and unsatisfying.
I considered rehabilitating the books through crafty projects — papier-mache piñatas, or text flashcards for English-language instruction for immigrants. I liked the idea of using Ingraham’s own words to help the people she deplores. But creating my own ESL program from scratch was unrealistic. And in a pandemic it seemed impossible.
It was on lockdown, actually, that I hit on the answer. I was cooking a lot and making plenty of kitchen waste. I hesitated to put it on the backyard compost pile because food attracts rats.
But a composting bin in the garage — plastic, with a tight lid and ventilation holes covered with screening, for red wiggler worms bought online — would work. Worms don’t like to be too wet or too dry. The bin would have to be hospitable: just damp, like a wrung-out sponge. Wet and slimy scraps need to be mixed with paper bedding.
Which I had, by the thousands of pages. About once a week, I tear them into strips. I add them to the coffee grounds, potato and carrot peelings, onion and avocado skins, asparagus stubs, the papery bits of garlic, eggshells and dead flowers, and let the worms do the rest.
I started with Bill O’Reilly, from his “Killing” series of armchair history books (on Kennedy, Lincoln, Reagan, Patton and so on). I wouldn’t exactly call “Killing Jesus” a right-wing screed, but its author is definitely a preacher of White Christian male domination, the original Fox jackass and an alleged sexual predator to boot. So into the bin Bill went.
His compatriots slowly followed: “Independents Day,” by Dobbs, the ex-CNN birther conspiracist, the immigrant denouncer, the Paul Revere of racist border vigilantes. “Treason,” by Coulter. (“What the country needed was Joe McCarthy.”) “Unhinged,” by Malkin.
Then Hannity, which was eminently compostable, packed back-to-front with lines like this bit of high indignation: “It didn’t seem to matter to these people,” he writes, that (guess who) “had lied to the country, lied under oath, harassed women, sought destruction of his political enemies, broken myriad laws, disgraced the office of the president of the United States, subjected America to ridicule and humiliation the world over.”
Of course, he meant Bill Clinton; the book came out in 2002. But Hannity is still at it. His latest book, “Live Free or Die,” with a tattered Old Glory on the cover, arrived Tuesday. I’m hoping it might be a library discard by Christmas.
I recently added Ken Starr, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin and another O’Reilly to my collection. They’ll all have to wait their turn — I go out to visit the worms only once or twice a week. It’s a comforting ritual. Tearing the pages has the immediate benefit of turning grim propaganda into fluffy word salad. In the moist, dark box, the worms get to work. Soon their end product will be nutrifying cilantro, tomatillos and radishes.
A friend worried that I might be raising poisoned or indoctrinated worms. I have a book signed by Ingraham, one where she mocks Muslim women in hijab she sees at the gym. Her pages are exceptionally rancid.
Yes, the books are dismantled, page by page. But the thing the pages are becoming is better than what they were. And their fate is nothing I would not wish on myself. Death will happen to me someday, probably sooner than I’d want. Gentle, carbon-friendly decomposition afterward sounds nice, preferable to the usual mortuary pickling or cremation.
If only we could do the same with the TV version and turn that river of dreck into something beneficial. To neutralize the lies beamed every day into the brains of all those millions of MAGA grandpas and grandmas, Uncle Bobs and Cousin Karens — and also, don’t forget, the world’s most powerful man, the Bunker Boy of Pennsylvania Avenue — causing them to be fearful and angry to the point of paranoia, bullying and derangement.
Turning propaganda into worm castings is not going to measurably reduce the amount of Fox News-iness in the environment. It is not strictly necessary. But if Hannity and company want to keep telling us that we are all at war, to keep stoking the flames and fanning the fear, then, for the good of this country, the people we love, the democracy we might lose and the world we want, so be it.
The worms and I, we do our part.