These were the images Americans were presented on Tuesday about their two choices for president: One taking his grandchildren to Dachau to bear witness to the horrors of Nazi death camps, the other sitting on a hotel bed in his boxer shorts waiting for sex with a porn star.

It was perhaps a twisted cosmic coincidence that President Biden’s nationally televised speech on Holocaust remembrance would take place at the exact moment that former President Donald J. Trump was in a courtroom confronted by Stormy Daniels’s testimony about a sexual tryst gone wrong.

But the surreal synchronism of the disparate events 182 days before the election captured the sometimes unreal reality of a presidential race like none before it, at once profound and tawdry, a contest with momentous consequences and a circuslike surround sound. A nation grappling with two wars overseas and campus unrest at home is also being asked to parse through the unseemly details of a married man’s purported dalliance with a woman who had sex on camera professionally.

This may not have been what the founders had in mind when they established the presidency, watching Mr. Biden’s speech at the Capitol condemning “a ferocious surge of antisemitism” while internet feeds provided the latest from Ms. Daniels’s account about the particular coital position she and Mr. Trump assumed. Yet so goes 2024, a year of twists and turns that defy history and the imagination.

Mr. Biden had the more conventional though not inconsiderable challenge, exhibiting presidential leadership at a time of national trauma. He has come under fire from the left in his own party for not doing more to restrain Israel’s war in Gaza, but wanted to use the annual remembrance ceremony to link the murder of six million Jews during World War II to the killing of 1,200 people during the Oct. 7 Hamas-led terrorist attack on Israel.

It was a speech with high-minded historical flourishes and deeply personal recollections, one aimed at summoning “our common humanity” while “heeding the lessons of one of the darkest chapters in human history.” He described his father teaching him about the Shoah, or Holocaust, at the dinner table when he was young and passing the lessons along to his children and their children when he was older.


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