Is democracy viable?

Note: I updated this on Thursday, November 10, 2016, to clarify what I mean by “gets the most votes.”

On November 8, 2016, roughly three months from now, the United States will elect a new president. It may be Hillary Clinton, it may be Donald Trump, and it could even be, theoretically, Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, or even a come-from-nowhere dark horse who starts a new party at the last moment and takes us all by surprise. But whoever it is, it will be someone. It won’t be nobody.

That president will have been elected by a majority vote of the citizenry, which means that the voters who don’t get their wish must accept the result. Even if just one vote decides the outcome, the democratic ideal says that the candidate who gets the most votes wins.

(By the way, I am aware of the distinction between the popular vote and the electoral college. My point is about our implementation of how the will of the people becomes representation in government. So when I say, “gets the most votes,” I mean wins the most states’ electoral votes, since that is how our country’s constitution implements the will of the people. Maybe some day I will write a critique on whether this is good or bad, but this is not that.)

Will the American people accept this? I wonder. Increasingly, I hear talk of an unacceptable possibility this time around; that if this or that candidate wins—well, it’s not always clear what happens next, just that it would not be acceptable.

But what is an unacceptable election outcome in a democracy? Short of voter fraud, what happens to the democratic gospel if the “wrong person” gets elected? Are we OK with the majority vote, or aren’t we? Is democracy—the kind where the voters vote and after they’re done, that’s what you get, period—really viable?

I’m just wondering.