Winston Peters is gaslighting the entire country. Sound extreme? If anything, I think it's an understatement, actually.

The Oxford Dictionary defines "gaslighting" as to "manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity."

That's exactly what Mr Peters is doing. And it's long past time we did something about it.

Let me get this out of the way: I have zero respect for a man who, for decades, has made populist xenophobia his stock-and-trade, and who seems to delight in causing misery for entire groups of people (his abuse of the press - people simply doing their jobs like everyone else - is unacceptable enough).


What's worse is his red herring that he's "looking out for New Zealanders", trotting out all kinds of nonsense about how us immigrants are supposedly pushing this great nation to breaking point.

He's ignoring that it's immigrants who have helped build this country. It's thanks to immigrants New Zealand punches far above its weight on the international stage than a nation with fewer people than most big cities has a right to.

But what's worse is this: lots of people seem to have bought into Peters' shtick. And it's horrifying.

It's absolutely gaslighting when you look around and have no idea who is infected with New Zealand First's noxious anti-immigrant extremism: Co-workers, classmates, friends, family, fellow shoppers at the supermarket, the clerk at the post office, the teller at the bank, the bus driver, the usher at the movie theatre ...

When you're an immigrant like I am, you start to get a bit paranoid, wondering who might secretly want to see you forcibly removed from the country you now call home. Believe me, always having to be suspicious is incredibly damaging to your health and quality of life.

It's even more frightening when people with influence - like Duncan Garner recently - spout the same extremist views as Peters, then bizarrely claim it's not xenophobic to say things like "immigration is great, but I'm not sure our traditional standard of living is enhanced by it".

Yeah, nah bro. That's dog-whistle politics 101. It's the same kind of thing Hitler and the Nazis said during their rise to power. It's the same thing the likes of Richard Spencer, Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos and others spout with sickening regularity. It's the kind of hateful rhetoric that has caused real harm.

It's the kind of hate speech that can get people killed because it can inspire folks to physically attack immigrants.

This is my honest opinion as an immigrant. And I will speak up for other immigrants until my dying breath.

You've heard it before, but it's worth repeating again: many immigrants sacrifice literally everything to come to New Zealand for a better life. I am one of them. In coming here, I gave up a well-paying job with serious potential for career advancement at one of the largest news organisations in Europe (an organisation which took a chance on hiring me when I had a woefully skint resume and didn't speak a word of German at the time).

I had a nice apartment in Berlin, enjoyed the luxuries of living on a continent where I could take a one-hour flight for as little as $30 to experience a completely new culture, and had close friendships with people I'll never forget (all the more important when you're like me and struggle with making friends).

In place of that, I plunged myself into thousands of dollars of debt to face the unknown. And why? Because I had a dream of an even better life.

But if Winston Peters has his way, I likely won't be welcome to stay. And neither will countless other people - including children, people who have families, and who don't have anything to go back to. People who need New Zealand if they are to simply survive. Deep down, we know reducing immigration is morally wrong.

What truly makes my blood run cold is now Peters has power. Make no mistake: Peters being "kingmaker" is the worst thing to happen to this country in modern times.

I am not exaggerating.

If Bill English or Jacinda Ardern were truly honourable leaders, deserving of being Prime Minister, they would have refused to work with Peters and New Zealand First, much like Angela Merkel refusing to negotiate with the forces of the far right in Germany. The fact neither of them has should have people asking serious questions about their fitness for office.

Some will argue that the position Peters has been in is a trade-off for a "fairer" MMP election system. No - it's a failure of democracy.

If we can slam the US Electoral College for producing as odious - and dangerously unhinged - a president as Donald J. Trump, then we can most certainly decry the MMP system for the rise of Winston Raymond Peters.

There are no quick solutions for fixing the rot. Compulsory voting wouldn't work (note to people calling for such a thing: you know where else voting is compulsory? North Korea). A winner-takes-all system where whichever party gets the most votes automatically forms the government might sound nice, but the opposition from the other parties would be considerable to say the least.

A change in mindset is well overdue. When we watched the 2016 US presidential election with open-mouthed shock, many felt that such a thing could never happen here, that at least a dangerous figure like Trump could never gain power in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Guess what: it's happened.

We need to galvanise our outrage and fear into action. As much as we might like to, we can't ignore someone like Peters. His Trumpian style of bigoted nationalism is here, now. Instead, he must be repudiated at every turn. On panels. At press conferences. At political gatherings. At workplaces. At schools. Around dinner tables. Online. Everywhere.

If New Zealand wants to have a prosperous, less hateful future, it's time to step up, now.

The lives of thousands of people truly depend on it.

The question is: what side of history do you want to be on?

And, Mr Peters, if you're listening: it's not too late to change.