A HISTORIC US election is just weeks away. The election not only has implications for the United States, but will extend far beyond its borders, sending a signal across the globe. Many important domestic and international policy considerations are before voters, but what must be front and centre are the interrelated questions of character, leadership tone, and common decency.

In the last few years there has been a significant departure from standards of political decency in America, and it has taken a toll. Some in the electorate will roar in passionate approval in the midst of acrimony and rancor – even find joy and a zealous pride congregating within animosity. It is an age-old technique for politicians and political operatives to scatter seeds of disagreement, carefully cultivate them within a base, and watch them ripen into what they hope are the fruits of victory. Those citizens and leaders who genuinely care about upholding the value of human decency are eager for greater decorum. Additionally, the world has witnessed the pettiness, and is also weary and dismayed by certain politicians who bluster bile behind podiums of power and incite clamour through social media.

Annie Lennox, chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University, said, “Ask yourself: Have you been kind today? Make kindness your daily modus operandi and change your world.” This aim certainly applies to politicians. Occupants of the White House in recent decades have embraced this. President Carter and President Ford had a remarkably close friendship, as have all former recent presidents from Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barrack Obama. They were publicly kind and respectful with one another and by all accounts the same in private. Two individuals who recently occupied the White House and left a legacy of kindness were Laura Bush and Michelle Obama. While serving, they were known for their inspirational kindness, decency, humour, optimism, and a commitment to using their positions to draw out the best in all Americans and to care for individuals around the world.

We can also reach further back to President Abraham Lincoln who was a model of decency in difficult times. His second inaugural address in March of 1865 would have tempted some politicians to fill the speech with swagger and boastful lines since imminent victory over the Confederacy was at hand. Yet, he encouraged listeners to go forward with “malice toward none, with charity for all,” and that all citizens care for each other to “bind up the nation’s wounds.” That is the standard of leadership that is missing today.

Politicians must be held to account if they bully, refrain from unequivocally condemning violence of any kind, mislead, use toxic, disrespectful, and hateful language to fuel discontent. Not all in the world live within a stable democracy, but those who do must remember the empowering right to vote was hard fought. To honour this democratic gift, voters should firmly tell those who purposely corrupt common ground and debase goodwill to pack their bags. Many are asking how should America navigate the waters of deep distress and disunity. America remains a noble country full of goodness and bursting with promise, but discordance is currently a heavy weight. A fundamental way to help restore positive energy and steer America back to a proper tone is to show moral patriotism by standing-up to political leaders who lack empathy and decency.

A hopeful society teaches the leadership principle and value of civility and decency in schools, organisations, businesses, churches, and homes. While there will be differences of opinion, the value of human kindness must always be the underlying priority in our interactions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, "When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out" and then we fight for better, which she did. Being decent is not weak. President Obama reminisced the late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis at his recent funeral as treating “everyone with kindness and respect because it was innate to him.” President Bush offered similar sentiments when he said, “We live in a nobler country today because of John Lewis.”

It is essential that character, leadership, and decency be on the ballot in the U.S. election. Americans and the world will wait with bated breath for the results. The outcome will allow us to see whether or not the values of civility and decency will be upheld as central public leadership principles, and if so espoused then a fresh breeze of faith can sweep through a promising nation and world so wholly in need of healing.

Ian Houston has spent his career in Washington, DC as an international non-profit leader, a policy advocate for diplomatic engagement and global poverty alleviation, and intercultural dialogue. He formerly worked in the U.S. Congress on policy staff. He currently serves as a consultant and as the Ambassador for the Scottish Business Network (SBN) in Washington, DC. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of SBN.