They were black and white, night and day, up and down.
The back-to-back Republican and Democratic national conventions were about as different as they could be, offering perhaps a sharper contrast than they have in decades, or maybe ever. From their nominees -- a tough-talking billionaire with no governing experience or affinity for details, and a famously contemplative policy wonk with decades of experience in and near high office -- to their visions and even their choreography, the conventions were a study in distinctions.
The Republicans and their would-be president, Donald Trump, painted a dark and at times sinister picture of a nation in decline in a world that's falling apart. They blamed the Democrats -- particularly President Obama and his first secretary of state -- for putting the United States at risk, victimized by terrorists without and immigrants within, living in the shadow of its former greatness. They depicted the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, as a criminal who should be behind bars, not in the Oval Office.
The Democrats and their would-be president painted a more nuanced, but decidedly upbeat picture of a nation that remains the greatest on Earth, strengthened by its growing diversity and tolerance while facing serious but surmountable challenges. They depicted Trump as a dangerous bogeyman, a loose-lipped showman divorced from reality and devoid of solutions, a peril to the country and the world.
The Republican convention was a bit chaotic and disorganized. The first night was punctuated by Trump's wife, Melania, who talked passionately about her upbringing and values in words that, it turns out, she borrowed from a speech delivered eight years ago by Michelle Obama. Two nights later, former presidential candidate Ted Cruz was booed off stage for his refusal to endorse Trump -- just as Trump entered the arena. The glitz and glamour that Trump promised never materialized, as all former GOP presidents, most former presidential nominees and a number of other dignitaries and celebrities stayed home.
The Democratic convention started on a sour note: The party chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, resigned amid allegations that the national committee had plotted in emails to undermine Bernie Sanders' campaign. But after that initial disruption, the convention itself was a star-studded, production-perfect affair, right down to the fireworks that followed Clinton's speech. Big names from the worlds of politics and entertainment abounded; performances by the likes of Katy Perry, Carole King, Paul Simon, Lenny Kravitz and a slew of Broadway and Hollywood stars were interspersed with the soaring speeches of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and a long list of current and former federal and state officials.
But the conventions also had some things in common. Both sides argued that the opposing nominee was unfit for office. Both featured speeches by the candidates' adult children, who spoke admiringly, lovingly, about the nominees. Both had their share of protesters, many of whom had not given up on other candidates from their own parties, particularly Cruz and Sanders.
And both kicked off what could be the most unusual campaign in American history, featuring candidates who are vastly different in substance and style, and who have opposing visions for the country that each hopes to lead to a brighter future.