Letter about the election from Martin J. Raffel to his late father, Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Raffel
by Martin J. Raffel
Our family just marked your 100th birthday, 10/10/20. Same numbers, different century. It has been many years since you left us in April 2009, but I think about you every single day. I try to live up to the lessons you taught me about the importance of always being there for family and friends, honesty, finding meaning in work, and giving back to the community.
You were still here to witness the historic election of the first Black man as President. Barack Obama, whom you and I met at Messiah College in 2008 when he debated Hillary Clinton, served two terms and did a lot of good for our country, especially by shepherding into law the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that has provided critical health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans.
As a decorated pilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber during World War II, your military service has always been a matter of great pride to me. Your Distinguished Flying Cross medal, won for bringing your severely damaged plane back safely after the 50th and final mission, is, in many ways, my most prized possession. After many years of hearing about him, I finally met your navigator Marty Weinstein, who was the last surviving member and only other Jew of your ten-man crew. We recalled how the two of you tried to dispel tension on the missions by telling Yiddish jokes. I called him every Father’s Day to say hello, and, invariably, he reminded me that you were his hero. Sadly, this past year, Marty joined you.
I also had the honor of getting to know and introduce our family to an amazing individual, Brigadier General Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen. You often shared with me how comforting it was to see the Red Tail fighter planes with their Black pilots escorting the heavy bombers on their missions to targets over Nazi-occupied Europe. Comparing your mission log with his, we discovered that the two of you flew together multiple times in 1944, including to that most feared bomb target, Ploesti, Romania, where the Nazi oil refineries were located. The country is blessed to have a robust 100-year old Charles McGee still living among us.
I must share some bad news. The world is going through the worst pandemic in over 100 years. Since early this year, over one million people have died worldwide from a novel coronavirus. Here in the U.S., the wealthiest and most technologically advanced country on the planet, we have suffered well over 200,000 deaths, with many times more than that experiencing long term serious impacts on their health. What made this situation even more tragic, it did not have to be this way.
Four years ago, America elected Donald Trump as President. Yes, you heard that correctly. That failed businessman, the corrupt amoral con artist, the superficial TV reality show personality, the narcissistic misogynist and racist, managed to capture the Republican nomination and defeat Hillary Clinton, who had all the attributes to be a terrific president. How this shocking development occurred is a long and complicated story. But I will tell you this: the Russian authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin intervened in the 2016 election on behalf of his friend Trump, primarily by spreading false information through social media. Security experts have informed us that systematic and intensive election interference directed by Moscow continues to this day.
Some optimists predicted that once in the White House, Trump would rise to the challenge of his high office and become, well, presidential. Were the optimists ever wrong! Since his election in 2016, Trump has deepened the divisions in our country with hateful rhetoric. He has undermined constitutional norms and integrity of many of our most important institutions. He has demonized the media, chillingly calling them the “enemy of the people.” He ordered the separation of families seeking refuge at our southern border and put children into cages. He has emboldened Neo-Nazis and other violent far right extremists, one of whom massacred eleven worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history.
In addition, Trump has mocked a war hero, the late Senator John McCain, disrespected gold star families, and even described you and other brave Americans who served our country in the military, some of whom paid the ultimate price, as “suckers” and “losers.” Did I mention a pandemic? Largely ignoring the advice of doctors and scientists, Trump has responded to the deadly virus with an eye on the stock market and economy rather than on the health of the American people — or even on the health of his own administration. Trump himself contracted the virus, as did many others with whom he had contact in recent days. Unbiased observers, not the sycophants on Fox News, rate his performance in the health crisis as abysmal. Once the envy of the world, America is now pitied.
Unlike any previous candidate, Trump threatens the election itself, the central pillar of our representative democracy. He has argued that the only way he can lose is if the Democrats engage in massive fraud. Moreover, incredibly, he refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. Despite all this, the 2020 election, as hard as it is for many of us to accept, is not a foregone conclusion.
Less than a year ago, after almost forty years in New Jersey, I moved back to Pennsylvania, where you and Mom brought me into the world. This is a key swing state for the election of the Democratic candidate for President, Joe Biden. He is honest and empathetic, someone who cares deeply for his family and others, and a genuine patriot. In other words, he is a lot like you. I am confident that Biden will help us get through this awful pandemic based on science, not politics, and will compassionately address the economic devastation it has wrought for so many. He will work to assure that all Americans have health coverage, the project he and Obama started.
As a board member of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania (DJOP), I am surrounded by people who care as passionately as I about the outcome of this election. We are doing our best to help elect Biden and his excellent Vice-Presidential running mate, Senator Kamala Harris. We also will fight like hell to prevent a gangster president from stealing an election he loses.
I do not claim to possess anywhere near the courage it took to climb into a B-17 cockpit at the age of 23 knowing each flight might be your last. Nevertheless, I hope to make you proud before, during and after the most important election of my lifetime.
With love and admiration,
Martin J. Raffel is a member of the board of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania. Until his retirement in 2014, he served as senior vice president at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs