WASHINGTON • Neither of them mentioned United States President Donald Trump by name, but two of his predecessors emerged from political seclusion on Thursday to deliver what sounded like pointed rebukes of the current occupant of the Oval Office.
In separate and unrelated appearances, former US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both warned that the US was being torn apart by ancient hatreds that should have been consigned to history long ago and called for addressing economic anxiety through common purpose. While not directly addressing Mr Trump, neither left much doubt over who and what they had in mind.
Mr Bush, the last Republican to hold the White House, spoke out at a conference he convened in New York to support democracy, noting that America first had to "recover our own identity" in the face of challenges to its most basic ideals. While Mr Trump seeks to raise barriers to trade and newcomers and lashes out at targets with relish, Mr Bush defended immigration and free trade, and bemoaned what he called the "casual cruelty" of current public discourse.
"We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America," Mr Bush said.
"We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade, forgetting that conflict, instability and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism. We've seen the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places," he added.
Mr Obama was more circumspect, returning to the campaign trail for the first time since leaving office to support Democrats running for governor in New Jersey and Virginia. But he defended his record on healthcare at a time when Mr Trump has been trying to dismantle it, and he, too, pointed to the social, economic and racial schisms cleaving American society.
"What we can't have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before that dates back centuries," Mr Obama told a campaign rally.
We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.
MR GEORGE W. BUSH, former US president.
DECRYING DIVISIVE POLITICS
What we can't have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before that dates back centuries.
MR BARACK OBAMA, former US president.
Separately, Mr Trump on Thursday gave his administration 10 out-of 10 for its response to a hurricane that hammered Puerto Rico exactly one month ago, even as 80 per cent of the US island remained without power.
Meeting Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello in the Oval Office, Mr Trump acknowledged the massive scale of the rebuilding effort, but defended his administration's response.
"We have provided so much, so fast, we were actually there before the storm hit," Mr Trump said.
As well as ravaging the electricity grid, the storm knocked out bridges, closed roads and made clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing scarce.
Asked how he would rank the administration's response out of 10, Mr Trump responded: "I give ourselves a 10. We have done a really great job."
When Mr Trump asked Mr Rossello "did we do a great job?", the governor said Mr Trump had met all of his requests. But he added that much more needed to be done to avoid a humanitarian disaster.
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE