Two of the most important pieces I've produced here at Open the Future concern teratocracy -- a neologism meaning "rule of monsters." The first, Fear of Teratocracy, outlines the core concept: American democracy is shifting from debates over policy to debates over legitimacy. The second, Teratocracy Rises, offers a set of examples of how attacks on the legitimacy of one's opponents is becoming attacks on the concept of democracy itself.
As I noted in Fear of Teratocracy, democracy isn't just defined by how you win -- i.e., with a majority/plurality of the vote.
Democracy is defined by how you lose, not (just) how you win.
The real test of whether a society that uses a plebiscite to determine leadership is really a democracy is whether the losing party accepts the loss and the legitimacy of their opponent's victory. This is especially true for when the losing party previously held power. Do they give up power willingly, confident that they'll have a chance to regain power again in the next election? Or do they take up arms against the winners, refuse to relinquish power, and/or do everything they can to undermine the legitimacy of the opposition's rule?
I strongly encourage you to re-read the entire essay. Here's why it matters: I strongly suspect that, regardless of who wins the US presidential election today, the United States is likely to be entering a period of a crisis of legitimacy. If Romney wins, the claims of voter suppression and out-and-out shenanigans (this is a less ambiguous example) will potentially leave many Democrats incandescent with anger, even more so than after the 2000 Supreme Court selection of George W. Bush -- because now it will be a "we can't let them get away with this again" scenario. If Obama wins, the already widely-extant opposition to his legitimacy as President among Republicans could explode; expect to see Twitter storms about secession and armed revolution, as well as the very real possibility of violence.
Compounding the misery of this moment, the impacts of climate disruption are very likely to become much more visible and painful over the course of this next presidential term, requiring both decisive action and a long-term perspective to head off (or at least mitigate) disasters -- but in a crisis of legitimacy, decisive action and long-term perspectives are even more difficult than usual to produce. The President, whether Romney or Obama, will be focused on dealing with an opposition that doesn't just disagree with his ideas, it doesn't believe that he has the right to be President.
I hope I'm wrong; I hope that the venom of this campaign and the frustrations of the past four years will be transcended by a political leadership (of both major parties) willing to seek out the best long-term solutions for truly complex problems. I also want a pony.