• Dr Jarrod Gilbert is a sociologist at the University of Canterbury and the lead researcher at Independent Research Solutions.

I write this one for all of the morons out there.

The fools, the buffoons, the vapid oxygen thieves who are the enemies of reason, whose foolishness is only matched by their self-righteousness, whose understanding of key issues is inversely proportional to the loudness with which they speak. Gather around my enemies, I wish to have a word.

I need to talk about political tribalism, this phenomenon that so often mocks the principles that uphold our democracy while chipping away at its foundations.


Such an unwavering devotion to one political party means nothing done by that party can ever offend the diehard supporter. Any action that threatens to rattle a devotee's true belief is responded to with the rationalisation that the sneaks on the other side would have done ten times worse given the same circumstances.

When this happens objective notions of right and wrong vanish, and what is left is a sickening reverence.

These are the people who would have defended their king in feudal times and belittled folk talking up democracy. Or burnt the witches when the church told them to.

Before we examine the folly of our leaders, it's useful to look overseas at a man who rather incredibly doesn't rate even close as the worst US president of modern times.

In an effort at espionage, Richard Nixon orchestrated the illegal break-in of the democratic offices at the Watergate Hotel in June 1972. Later that year, he was re-elected in a landslide.

Evidence already existed linking the president to the criminal activity including a $25,000 cheque from Nixon's team that was banked by one of the burglars. Many of his supporters simply didn't believe it could happen, while some couldn't be bothered looking at the evidence or more concerning simply didn't care.

How did Nixon handle matters? Deny, deny, attack, deny, deny. 'I am not a crook', he declared in 1973, and much of his support base believed him.

By 1974 the evidence was overwhelming. Nixon resigned in infamy yet even then opinion polls showed that at least 24 per cent of the population - one in four voters - stood by their man.

For true believers their leaders cannot do anything bad enough to be condemned. The party they support is more important than the democracy within which it exists.

Have we had a Nixon-like scandal? No. But there was enough in the latest election to evince a concerning hardening of fervent tribalism.

While I could look at the hardcore Green voters who lashed out at the media for the demise of Meteria Turei, without question the most egregious example was the defence by blinkered National supporters of Steven Joyce's $11.9b fiscal hole claim. One such supporter was Bill English, a man who to this point I have only ever written positively about.

Whether or not Joyce set out to cause mischief, or he simply misread the books and embarrassment and pigheadedness meant he was unable to back down (the latter theory I favour), we're all aware that a swath of leading economists came out and debunked what he said.

What did Joyce do? Deny, deny, attack, deny, deny. And, of course, many of his people defended it, made excuses, or misrepresented the evidence.

All good people should have called that nonsense out in unison.

To the tribalists who didn't I ask this: if Labour had made the same accusation against National and not a single economist supported it, would you have reacted the same way?

No. Of course not. And that's what defines you as a moron.

In fact, looking at any issue and asking how you would react if the other side did it is a handy test we should all employ. Even when we claim neutrality such a test often teases out our unconscious biases.

In many ways, the claim Joyce and English made troubles me in greater ways than Nixon's hotel break-in. Unlike Nixon, Joyce and English didn't succeed in spite of their malfeasance - they succeeded in part because of it. They benefited from it. What precedent does this then set?

What ugliness awaits us now that this brazen low has been established? Where is our ambition for a democracy that exists on open debate and the exchange of ideas?

Wherever our allegiances fall we must not allow ourselves to be the foolish. The integrity of our system must stand before our desire for our team to win. Let us be a country that exhibits the best in politics and doesn't embrace the very worst.