Former US presidents and Trump show unity at hurricane benefit concert

Five former US presidents, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, speak during a concert at Texas A&M University benefiting hurricane relief efforts in College Station, Texas. PHOTO: REUTERS

(NYTIMES) - In a rare show of political unity, the five living former United States presidents appeared on the same Texas stage Saturday (Oct 21) night to help raise money for hurricane recovery efforts.

The joint appearance by the former presidents - Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Jimmy Carter - at the Deep From the Heart concert was part of a larger disaster relief campaign that began in September.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria caused extensive property damage and killed more than 100 people in the United States.

About an hour into the concert, President Donald Trump thanked his predecessors for their "tremendous assistance" in a prerecorded video.

US President Donald Trump speaks in a video message during the concert at Texas A&M University benefiting hurricane relief efforts in College Station, Texas. PHOTO: REUTERS

"In the aftermath of these terrible storms, the American people have done what we do best," Trump said. "We came together, we helped one another and, through it all, we remained resilient."

He added: "This wonderful effort reminds us that we truly are one nation, under God, all unified by our values and our devotion to one another."

The public show of togetherness in College Station, Texas, provided a stark contrast to recent speeches by George W. Bush and Obama, who appeared to criticise Trump without explicitly referring to him.

Their remarks garnered attention in part because Bush and Obama have maintained relatively low profiles after leaving office and have largely avoided speaking out against Trump since he was inaugurated in January.

For a few hours Saturday, however, all six leaders seemed to put aside their differences to help the hurricane victims.

Several of the former presidents waved from the stage as an American flag flashed on the screen behind them, taking their seats after the national anthem.

Soon after Trump's video was played, the former presidents returned to the stage. In brief remarks, Carter and Clinton praised Americans' volunteerism. Obama thanked both members of the Bush family, who live in Texas, and spoke about the important work of citizens.

"Americans step up," Obama said. "And as heartbreaking as the tragedies that took place here in Texas, and in Florida, in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands have been, what we've also seen is the spirit of America at its best."

George W. Bush spoke last, urging viewers to donate and honoring his father.

"We really admire and love George H.W. Bush," he said before standing behind his father, who remained seated. The former presidents then received a loud standing ovation.

The presidents have a history of coming together after natural disasters.

Clinton teamed up with the elder Bush to raise money after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. When he was commander in chief, Obama asked Clinton and George W. Bush to lead an effort to help Haiti after an earthquake in 2010.

Donations to the current campaign, One America Appeal, will help victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, according to the campaign's website. It has raised more than US$31 million (S$42 million), officials announced Saturday.

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