If you are reading this, you know more than we do.

Production deadlines required us to write this before the polls closed and the votes were counted, so we don’t know what you know about the outcome of the 2018 election. But that might make this the best time to think about what should happen next.

We don’t need to see the final numbers to know this: We live in a sharply divided nation, and polarization plays out in Augusta as well as in Washington.

Some of this year’s races will be close – some always are. Around half of Maine voters will walk away from the election deeply disappointed, while somewhere around half of the electorate will celebrate, or at least let loose a sigh of relief.

Of the checks and balances built into the federal and state constitutions designed to prevent the concentration of power, none is more important than the one we just witnessed – frequent elections.

But there are others almost as important that have been taking a beating in this political environment.

In their 2017 book “How Democracies Die,” Harvard University government professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt discuss the unwritten rules that allow people to govern themselves while navigating their conflicts. They call them the “guardrails” for functioning democracies.

The first is “mutual toleration” – the recognition that the other side has a right to exist and represents legitimate interests. You can be opponents without being enemies. The other party can be wrong without being evil. It’s easy to say and hard to remember in the heat of battle, but it’s vitally important.

The second is “institutional forbearance” – or not using every tool that’s available every time you can just to make life harder for the other side.

Our laws and traditions give minority parties the power at times to block the will of the majority. But extraordinary powers should be saved for extraordinary circumstances. Once things like vetoes and filibusters become routine, representative government stops functioning.

Observing the guardrails is not about being nice or polite. It doesn’t mean that every conflict can be resolved with a compromise. We need these norms because conflict is inevitable.

Our system produces both winners and losers, and they both have a responsibility to keep the government working, even if they don’t like the immediate result.

On the day after Election Day, winners and losers should remember that no victory is absolute, and no loss is forever. This campaign is over, but the next election is just two years away.

In the meantime, there’s a lot of work to do.

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