Paul Schonenberg is seen during an Amcham-Delano partnered event in February 2020
Photo: LaLa La Photo/archives
American Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg (Amcham) chairman and CEO Paul Schonenberg believes sitting US president Donald Trump’s style is misunderstood.
A New Yorker himself, Schonenberg says that although he has never met Trump “I have the feeling he is not as bad as people think he is. Part of the difference is this cultural style, very adversarial, which doesn’t fit with the way we tend to do things in Luxembourg.”
He adds that there’s a certain “cultural style that exists with people who consider themselves from New York but are not from Manhattan… Trump was not born in Manhattan…he was born and raised in Brooklyn and Queens, and some people in those areas have [a] style that is…much tougher”.
Guilt by association?
Schonenberg arrived in the grand duchy in 1992 to serve as the senior US representative at the Nato Maintenance and Supply Agency (Namsa), after which he worked at Clearstream (1997-2010) and since 1998 served as chairman and CEO of Amcham, a neutral platform of US and international companies and individuals alike (roughly a 30-70 respective split, per Schonenberg). In the latter role in particular, he helps promote Luxembourg as an ideal place in Europe to do business, but he has also advocated on behalf of US companies and citizens on issues such as Fatca, visas and, more recently, where local Americans can get their stimulus checks cashed in the grand duchy.
Among his community he says he has noticed “a positive reaction to the pace of recovery taking place in the US [and] a perception that we must get our economies up and working”, although he thinks that across the Atlantic, “the Democrats seem to be less interested in getting the economy back working. He adds: “I believe every life is precious, and for anyone who dies it’s a tragedy and a shame… I don’t want to minimise it, but you cannot protect everybody from everything all the time because then nothing happens, nothing gets done. It’s about finding the right balance.”
But despite his positioning the chamber as a neutral organisation he wonders if there might be “guilt by association” and acknowledges there is “some risk associated with that… [although] last time I checked I don’t have a lot of say in policy”. And he finds himself having to put more time into explaining his take on US foreign policy over the last few years than previously.
It’s difficult to be centrist
Schonenberg does worry that people are having a “visceral, emotional reaction” to Trump’s style, “and it’s not sitting well with them”, but he compares that style to the “little firebrand” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And he does think it would serve Trump better to become “more Reaganesque…[40th US President Ronald] Reagan was very funny, didn’t frighten people”.
While Schonenberg may have predicted the outcome of the last election, this year he doesn’t have an inkling on who will become the 46th US president: “I can’t say I’m thrilled with either one of them”. Despite Joe Biden’s wide poll lead after the first set of debates, Schonenberg doesn’t really have confidence in the polling data, given that he doesn’t think many would admit they were going to vote for Trump if directly questioned. While the Amcham CEO does consider himself a centrist--liberal on a host of issues, but strong on national defence and fiscally conservative--he adds that it is difficult to be one nowadays.
“Historically America has been politics-in-the-middle rather than on the extremes,” Schonenberg says. “For this election, and the trend over the past couple of years, it’s harder for people to survive in the middle, they have to go to the left or the right…
“I’d like us to get back to talking and meeting in the middle, but it seems very hard to do at the moment.”
A US Elections Debate event, organised by Paperjam Club and Delano magazine, will take place on 21 October. Register for the event here.