Let’s get something straight. I am Sam Nunberg. You are Sam Nunberg. In a way, every American who feels disoriented by the bizarre reality of Trump World is Sam Nunberg.
A former Donald Trump campaign aide, Nunberg dominated a 24-hour news cycle with his wild rants about how he plans to defy special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s subpoena — a claim he later walked back from.
But earlier in the day, in an interview with Gloria Borger of CNN, he exclaimed, “Screw that. Why do I have to go? Why? For what?”
On one level, Nunberg might be seen as a man stripped of his power standing up to the most powerful. I mean, who hasn’t fantasized about saying “No!” to a big demand?
But the key element of L’affair Nunberg isn’t his response to Mueller’s demand for records and testimony. It is the sad spectacle of a man whose torment appears to have begun when he got close to Trump.
Never an A-list political operative, Nunberg worked briefly for Trump but was fired in 2014 when he arranged for an interview that didn’t go well for the boss. Trump then brought him back into the fold, only to fire him again when it was revealed that Nunberg had written a variety of racially charged social media posts.
The pattern is familiar. Trump dangles power and opportunity before a job candidate with few qualifications. He puts him under intense pressure and humiliates him when he fails.
After he was cast out for the last time, Nunberg apparently began to examine what happened and concluded that Trump “treated me like crap.” He then argued that Trump brought the Russia investigation on himself. “Donald Trump caused this,” said Nunberg on CNN, “because he’s an idiot.”
Nunberg isn’t the only one who has experienced Trump’s cruel leadership style. Trump has openly and repeatedly criticized his attorney general Jeff Sessions — prompted by Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Trump has called Sessions’ leadership style at the Department of Justice “disgraceful” on Twitter and reportedly called him “Mr. Magoo” behind his back.
But individuals aren’t the only recipients of Trump’s cruelty. Through Trump has claimed to love the Dreamers, he put them in legal limbo when he canceled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. And though he left it to Congress to fix, Congress has yet to succeed — missing its March 5th deadline and adding to the anxiety of the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients.
In a similar way, Trump has toyed with survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting by supporting new gun-control regulations one moment and reversing himself in another. The pain experienced by the Dreamers and the survivors of gun violence is real and directly related to Trump’s heedless way of operating.
The record of this behavior goes way back. Whether he was dragging his first wife Ivana through an ugly divorce that made tabloid headlines or yanking health insurance away from a sick grandnephew after the child’s parents sued Trump, he has long demonstrated a remarkable ability to be cruel. With his social media attacks on the likes of Rosie O’Donnell and Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi, Trump has shown he has no shame — and rather enjoys indulging in it.
Comforted by his wealth and power and with apparently little empathy for those he hurt, Trump has made an art out of denigrating others and promoting himself. Along the way he has collected effective enablers and jettisoned those, like Nunberg, who didn’t quite fit the paradigm Trump established. The same dynamic rules the White House, which explains the turmoil there, and it impacts every American who recognizes that Trump is at best, incompetent, and at worst, destructive.
Nunberg’s response captured cable news’ attention because most of us feel at least a little of the despair and anxiety he must feel as Mueller’s subpoena brings him ever closer to the center of the storm. He’s a bit player, lacking the resources to protect himself.
In one of his defiant interviews, he insisted to Erin Burnett that he hadn’t been drinking. He then added that he was taking anti-depressants. The viewer’s only reasonable reaction would be, “Of course he is,” because anyone whose so close to the alarming mess that is the Trump presidency should be depressed.
Nunberg deserves our empathy. Yes, he brought some of the pain upon himself. However, he has also been abused and misused. He’s a man who reached the end of his ability to cope with Trump. Most of us have an idea of how that feels.