The United States’ social media-savvy ambassador to Switzerland, Suzan “Suzi” LeVine, leaves office on Friday, the day Donald Trump – the man shaping politics and business with his own tweets – is inaugurated as the 45th US president.
Their approach to Twitter couldn’t be more different. On the one hand there is the US president-elect taking regular shots at the media, the American intelligence services and Hillary Clinton, choosing words and phrases like ‘dishonest’external link ‘sleazebag’external link, and ‘guilty as hell’external link.
On the other, there are the US ambassador’s upbeat and optimistic messages. LeVine’s 140-character tweets are more often than not messages of encouragement, using adjectives such as ‘inspiring’external link and ‘awesome and amazing’external link. “I use it as way to communicate but more importantly to listen to people across the two countries, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and to be able to reach folks that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.”
In an interview with swissinfo.ch a week before her last day as ambassador, LeVine chose to avoid any direct criticism of the incoming American commander in chief but did say there had to be “more scrutiny of fact” and people should “apply a filter” to get to the truth on social media sites.
“It’s incumbent when we talk to young people about their utilisation of social media. I think this starts in school, and with parents, and some cases the children helping the parents understand.”
As both a parent and diplomat, she says she sees herself as a role model, as she does the outgoing president, Barack Obama. She refused to comment on whether Trump should be granted the same consideration.
Thaw in relations
When LeVine was sworn in as US ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein in June 2014 - the first to do so on an electronic device, a Kindle e-reader - she was taking over as US representative in Bern at a time when Swiss-US bilateral relations were beginning to thaw.
Only a year earlier, Switzerland signed up to the Swiss Bank Program, agreeing to end a long-running dispute over Swiss banks’ role in helping US citizens evade taxes.
However, one of the new ambassador’s tasks was to deal with part of the fallout – the reluctance of Swiss banks to open accounts for American clients, even if they were residents of Switzerland.
“When I started, there was a cloud over the relationship and there was a concern about banking services for American citizens, and concern from the banks about the relationship with the United States,” she said.
These citizens, she says, are ordinary Americans. “This is the school teacher or the person who fell in love with a Swiss guy.”
LeVine’s Swiss legacy however could likely be the initiative encouraging Swiss companies to expand or create new apprenticeship programmes in the US. In her last week in office, the embassy announced that an additional 12 firms had committed themselves to the initiative, bringing the total to 30.
“We have been able to create a gravitational force in the United States of companies who are willing to invest and grow a meaningful apprenticeship model in the US.”
The new companies, including Logitec, Novartis and Adecco, will offer training and jobs in a range of fields including IT systems management, accounting, office management, engineering and electronics.
LeVine says a challenge for her yet to be named successor is to make the apprenticeship model a standard for all Swiss companies in the US, and to see US companies learn from their Swiss branches where apprenticeship programmes are in place.
As the departing ambassador, she offered a word of advice to the approximately 20,000 American expats she will leave behind, on how to respond when asked to comment on the controversial election of Donald Trump.
“Every individual can be proud of their nation and they can also emphasise - in this country that appreciates democracy - that every individual has a voice and a vote, and that our democracy is diverse.
“I encourage them to be proud to be from the US, and to continue to advocate for the positions they have politically, socially, culturally and to lean into those as opposed to shying away from them.”