The Real Reason President Trump Didn’t Go to Hurricane Fundraiser Concert

Five former presidents gathered onstage at Texas A&M University this week, during the “Deep from the Heart: One America Appeal” tribute concert. About 10,000 people attended the sold-out show dedicated to raising money for hurricane victims.

According to The New York Times, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Jimmy Carter all appeared onstage together. President Donald Trump did not attend the concert, but gave an address via a pre-recorded video. The joint appearance by the former presidents came as part of the “Deep From the Heart” appeal that began in September. Trump’s absence highlights major differences between his response to crisis and that of his five predecessors.

1. How the charity event came together

five former presidents with their hands on their hearts, with red, white and blue background

(L-R) Former US Presidents, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama listen to the national anthem during the Hurricane Relief concert in College Station, Texas. | Jim Chapin/AFP/Getty Images

According to The Washington Post, the concert featured Alabama, Sam Moore, Yolanda Adams, Lyle Lovett, and Robert Earl Keen. Lee Greenwood served an emcee. Lady Gaga made a surprise appearance, as well as a donation. In September, the former presidents started the appeal to raise money for Hurricane Harvey victims. They later expanded the effort to include victims of Hurricane Irma and Maria, as well.

As of Sunday afternoon, the One America Appeal charity effort had raised nearly $33 million in tax-deductible, private funds from more than 80,000 donors, according to organizers. Presidents coming together for charitable reasons does not come without precedent. Current presidents also may not participate for one logical reason. 

2. Former leaders appear as America’s grandfathers

George W. Bush speaks as other former presidents look on during benefit concert

Former United States Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama address the audience during the Deep from the Heart: The One America Appeal Concert. | Rick Kern/Getty Images for Ford Motor Company

TIME reported that the former world leaders last got together at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in 2013, when Obama still held office. Bush spokesman Jim McGrath didn’t respond when asked whether Trump received a formal invite. The White House also declined to comment on the issue.

Bush and Bill Clinton raised money together after the 2004 South Asia tsunami and Hurricane Katrina the next year. Clinton and George W. Bush combined to gather donations after Haiti’s 2011 earthquake.

“It’s certainly a triple, if not a home run, every time,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Presidents have the most powerful and prolific fundraising base of any politician in the world. When they send out a call for help, especially on something that’s not political, they can rake in big money.”

Former presidents have distance from the office on their side, as well. Rottinghaus said those attending the concert received more favorably views because of their current status. He added polling consistently shows that “any ex-president is seen as less polarizing than the current president.

“They can’t get away from the politics of the moment,” he said of current White House occupants. “Ex-presidents are able to step back and be seen as the nation’s grandfather.” At the concert, politics seemed the furthest thing from their minds. 

3. The presidents called for unity, even Trump

a television screen with Trump speaking backed by an American flag at the hurricane relief concert

President Donald Trump addresses the crowd on video during the Hurricane Relief concert. | Jim Chapin/AFP/Getty Images

In his recorded message, Trump called his predecessors’ efforts “tremendous.

“To Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Melania and I want to express our deep gratitude for your tremendous assistance,” he said. “This wonderful effort reminds us that we truly are one nation under God, all unified by our values and our devotion to one another.”

A White House official said Trump felt “honored to be given an opportunity to participate in relief and recovery efforts.” According to that statement, Trump “encourages all Americans to be as generous as they can in helping storm survivors through this difficult time.”

“We could not be prouder of the response of Americans — when they see their neighbors, when they see their friends, when they see strangers in need, Americans step up,” Obama told the audience. “And as heartbreaking as the tragedies that took place here in Texas and in Florida and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been, what we’ve also seen is the spirit of America at its best.”

He also highlighted the charitable efforts of George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. Obama called the senior Bush an “outstanding American who has always shown grace and character and courage and served America nobly throughout the years.”

The president’s’ statements contrasted sharply with some of Trump’s hurricane responses. 

4. Guess who responded favorably first

Trump with his hands up, in a dark suit, at the Oval office

Trump responded quickly to mailand hurricane damage, but had less-than-empathetic responses for Puerto Rico. | Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

The Washington Post reported that Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas’ Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25. The storm set off historic flooding in Houston, killing more than 80 people. Shortly thereafter, all five ex-presidents appeared in a commercial for what became the One America Appeal. In it, George W. Bush said, “People are hurting down here.” His father, George H.W. Bush, replied, “We love you, Texas.”

Hurricane Irma hit Florida and Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico shortly thereafter. Both also affected the U.S. Virgin Islands. Organizers expanded the fundraising campaign to help those storm victims, too. In all, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria caused extensive property damage and killed more than a hundred people. At the time of all three hurricanes, the former presidents united in support of Americans in need. One didn’t. 

5. Disastrous infrastructure, poor leadership, and Twitter feuds

San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz waves in a white shirt against the Puerto Rico flag

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz speaks to the media as she arrives at the temporary government center setup at the Roberto Clemente stadium in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Trump, by contrast, showed clear favoritism to the mainland areas affected by the hurricanes. After Maria hit Puerto Rico, he spent much of the early aftermath criticizing rescue efforts. The president fielded criticism that his administration took its time sending aid to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

The president accused island leaders of “poor leadership,” and later tweeted that, “Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes.” He later noted that Federal Emergency Management Agency, first-responders and military personnel wouldn’t be able to stay there forever.

As of press time, only 21.6% of the island had power and 78.6% of its gas stations are up and running, according to an official website with updates on recovery efforts. The death toll currently stands at 48. Regardless, Trump thinks his rescue has gone perfectly. 

6. Trump gives his own hurricane response high marks

Trump speaks with Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico in the Oval Office

President Donald Trump speaks with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico. | Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

In a meeting with Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello, Trump gave himself an A. As NPR reported, Trump rated his hurricane response a 10. “It was probably the most difficult — when you talk about relief, when you talk about search, when you talk about all of the different levels, and even when you talk about lives saved. If you look at the number, I mean this was, I think, it was worse than Katrina. It was in many ways worse than anything people have ever seen.”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said that if the perfect “10” Trump gave his administration for its response to Hurricane Maria was right, it must be a 10 out of 100.

“If it is a 10 out of a scale of 100, of course, it is still a failing grade,” she said on CNN.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long said his agency’s current focus lies in restoring functionality to Puerto Rico’s six major metropolitan areas, then working its way out. Long said a “traditional recovery” on the island “is going to require a solution far greater than what FEMA typically puts down.” He plans to hire at least 2,000 locals to help with the effort.

In the interim, the House of Representatives last week approved another $36.5 billion for emergency relief for Puerto Rico and other storm-ravaged areas. The Senate should act on that package soon, according to NPR. The new relief package comes in addition to the $15.25 billion lawmakers approved last month for Hurricane Harvey rebuilding.

The five former presidents put politics aside to show unity for hurricane victims. The week before though, showed Obama and George W. Bush, at least, disagree with many of Trump’s actions. 

7. In a week leading up to unity, former presidents decry division

barack obama speaking in a dark suit against a dark background

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as he campaigns for Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

“I haven’t been commenting a lot on politics lately, but here’s one thing I know: If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you’re not going to be able to govern it,” Obama said while campaigning for Democrat Ralph Northam in Virginia, NBC reported. “We’re at our best when we’re not trying to put people down but when we’re trying to lift everybody up.”

Hours earlier, George W. Bush gave a New York speech that echoed similar sentiments. “Bigotry seems emboldened,” he said. “Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication. We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together.” He added, “[W]e need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have a great advantage: To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.”

Neither mentioned Trump by name, but The New York Times noted it was clear who they had in mind. Those speeches proved significant, since neither Obama nor Bush have commented substantially on Trump’s presidency. Bush remained notably quiet during Obama’s eight years in office, but spoke up on Trump just nine months in.

The differences between the other presidents’ and Trump’s attitude toward hurricane relief speak volumes. Even school children know actions speak louder than words.While the other presidents stood together, Trump spent his 74th day at the golf course, per the press pool. Even though Trump paid lip service to unity, his response to Puerto Rico shows less interest in humanitarianism than his predecessors.

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