ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP / Getty / The Atlantic

The debates are over. Early voting has started. Election Day is almost here. If you’ve studied the issues that are most important to you, and compared the characters of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and remain undecided about how you’ll vote, here’s an exercise that could help you make up your mind: Instead of focusing solely on how the candidates would behave in the Oval Office, consider how each man is likely to inspire others to behave. These five questions may help you to reach a conclusion:

  1. The novelist Edith Wharton once wrote, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Which candidate is more likely to use the unusual visibility of the presidency to reflect Americans’ best behavior?

  2. In the song “The Real Slim Shady,” the hip-hop artist Eminem captures a nihilistic streak in American life, rapping, “And there’s a million of us just like me / Who cuss like me, who just don’t give a fuck like me … He could be working at Burger King, spittin’ on your onion rings / Or in the parking lot, circling, screaming, ‘I don’t give a fuck!’ / With his windows down and his system up.” Which candidate is more likely to inspire dark behavior or to fuel socially destructive impulses?

  3. Winston Churchill said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” Which candidate is more likely to inspire Americans ––and perhaps the leaders and citizens of allied nations––to take on rather than disclaim responsibility?

  4. Republican and Democratic presidents are both asked to rein in the worst excesses of people “on their side.” If and when extreme partisans or fringe members of a coalition behave badly, which candidate is more likely to discern what is beyond the pale and discourage those acts?  

  5. Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, believed that “outstanding leaders go out of the way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” The president leads the military and all federal agencies. Which candidate is more likely to boost subordinates so they perform at their best?  

Many Americans will act the same way over the next four years regardless of who is elected, but some are influenced by the president, whether directly, as federal employees, or indirectly, as relatively suggestible people. Choose the candidate who will be the better influence.

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