Velveeta, Genocide and the Frog Boil of Fascism

The photo was of a huge Walmart display of Velveeta cheese with a sign that read, “Everyday low price: $7.48.” The person who posted it on Twitter/X wrote: “Everything is fine folks. 7 dollars for cheese?” The post has received 2 million views since it went up at 5 a.m. Dec. 18.

I was among those who responded to it, with my tweets getting 100k views. Velveeta cheese — which is actually a processed cheese food, not dairy cheese — was a staple of my poverty-stricken childhood. It doesn’t require refrigeration. It has an easy melt point, which makes it ideal for making inexpensive mac and cheese for a family of four with a box of Creamette macaroni. 

I pointed out in a quote-tweeted thread “Learn math. It’s $7.47 for TWO POUNDS of Velveeta. Which means it’s $3.75 a pound, which is inexpensive.”

I added my Socialist spin, noting: “Also, food prices are high because corporations raise prices and gouge us. Most of us got poorer during the pandemic, but corps made record cash, as did their CEOs. Please learn how capitalism works. It’d be great if this was about voting, and that easy, but it’s not.”

There is much talk about the economy in the lead-in to the 2024 election which begins in earnest in three weeks with the Iowa caucuses at which Donald Trump — the disgraced, twice-impeached, four-times-indicted, twice-convicted former president — will likely begin to seal his position as titular Republican presidential nominee in a field that has winnowed from more than a dozen challengers to only four: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, billionaire entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. 

Inexplicably, Trump is leading the economy over President Biden — due in large part to skewed real-life perceptions of the economy, like people thinking that $7.48 for Velveeta — at least 50 slices worth — is expensive when a pack of 12 Kraft singles is $6.09 at Walmart.

It’s one of many issues on which there is a disconnect — and one which could propel the election into a win for Trump, who has been parroting Hitler in his speeches, using the same language about immigrants “poisoning the blood of the country” as was used by Hitler about Jews. Trump is also laying out his authoritarian plans for the destruction of American democracy, often to cheers from the crowds at his campaign events, to whom he says, “I am your retribution.” Much like Hitler said to a Germany devastated by post-WWI sanctions and an economy in tatters in which Hitler scapegoated the Jewish shopkeepers and intellectuals.

In addition to the economy, Biden also has to shift rhetorical and real-life gears on the Israel-Hamas war that has killed more than 20,000 Palestinian civilians in Gaza and displaced nearly 2 million Gazans, about half of whom are now suffering from starvation, according to every NGO on the ground in Gaza, including Doctors without Borders, Save the Children, UNRWA. Cholera is also breaking out — a disease of the 19th century extremes of humanitarian crisis.

Last week, IDF forces killed three Israeli hostages who they are alleged to have mistaken for Palestinians, despite the men waving a white flag of surrender and calling for help in Hebrew. The revelation has created a firestorm in Israel with massive protests venting anger and frustration over the Benjamin Netanyahu government’s focus on obliterating Hamas over getting the hostages home. 

But as I wrote about the acknowledgment of the “accidental” killings, “Just remember that the IDF killed 3 Israeli hostages waving a white flag with their arms up in surrender because they thought those three hostages were three Palestinians waving a white flag with their arms up in surrender.”

We are witnessing the annihilation of a population in real time. Whether you call it genocide or ethnic cleansing — and I was among the first American reporters — to address both just 10 days after the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre — the U.S. is complicit, even more than we were in abandoning the Jews to the Holocaust during World War II. 

The specter of the Holocaust hovers over the Israel-Hamas conflict. Russian-American journalist, translator and New Yorker staff writer Masha Gessen won the prestigious Hannah Arendt Prize last week, for which they gave a speech in Bremen. De Zeit published the speech, titled “Comparison is the way we know the world.” 

Gessen, who is nonbinary, has been described as “Russia’s leading LGBT rights activist” and has said that in the years they were living in Russia, they were “probably the only publicly out gay person in the whole country.”

Astute, keenly observant and always provocative, Gessen has written excoriating critiques of both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. In their speech in Bremen, Gessen took on the genocide in Gaza, framing it against the Holocaust. I would urge everyone to read the full speech — De Zeit will offer you an English translation

Gessen tells us in a detailed rendering of why we make comparisons and why we shouldn’t compare things to the Holocaust, that Gaza is a Holocaust in the making.    

Gessen explains, “Why do we compare? We compare to learn….Comparison is the way we know the world. And yet we make rules about things that cannot be compared to each other.” 

Gessen, who is Jewish and whose great-grandfather fought the Nazis in the Bialystok Ghetto in Poland says, “You don’t compare things to the Holocaust. There is a paradox: we imagine the Holocaust in great detail, but we conceive of it as fundamentally unimaginable. It is the kind of evil that we cannot comprehend. But anything that happens in the present is, by definition, imaginable. We can see it.”

Gessen deconstructs how international law, humanitarian law and political law have all been built around not repeating the Holocaust.

Gessen writes of the Jewish resistance fighters of the Bialystok Ghetto, they “didn’t know that the Holocaust was possible. We do….we know something they didn’t know: We know that the Holocaust is possible.” 

We can see what is happening in Gaza. We can see that 20,000 civilians, nearly half of them children, have been killed in what even President Biden has called “indiscriminate bombing.” We can see that Israeli hostages, just moments away from rescue and being returned to their families after more than 70 days of captivity, were shot to death even as they presented themselves in the international surrender position, because they were thought to be Palestinian and Palestinians are clearly being killed even when surrendering. The only “accident” involved in that shooting is that these were Israelis.

We are also at an inflection point that threatens all LGBTQ+ people. I covered the Trump years and how they were dangerously anti-LGBTQ. I’ve reported dozens of stories on the anti-LGBTQ fervor of the GOP and the history of radical anti-LGBTQ+ work and politics of the newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson

We normalized Trump for years. We are normalizing genocide now. We are immersed in the slow frog boil of mistaking the price of Velveeta as more critical than the slow creep of fascism and the horror of mass annihilation. We can learn from comparison. We must do so before it is too late.

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