November 2016 wasn’t the best time to have a baby. My water broke two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president. The world suddenly felt unstable — and my political worries were compounded by the wails of an alert newborn for whom sleep was not on the agenda.
In those early days of motherhood, I found myself singing “Edelweiss” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1965 musical The Sound of Music to soothe us both. It's not exactly a lullaby, but the scenes in which the song is included are about connecting with family and standing in resistance to an oppressive government. In Trump's America, "Edelweiss" reminds me of the role integrity plays, both in parenting and resisting a dangerous regime.
I watch the based-on-a-true-story musical regularly because it makes me feel good about being alive, about having a family that occasionally sings together, and about loving my country that’s mostly been safe from Nazis. The Sound of Music is the story of a young, Austrian nun-in-training who moves in with a military widower to raise his seven children, but it's really about telling the Nazis to shove it. By the end, Capt. Georg Von Trapp and his family end up fleeing the Nazi invasion of Austria during World War II.
The family’s patriarch, played by the stately Christopher Plummer, sings the delicate “Edelweiss” during two pivotal moments in the movie. When Georg picks up the guitar for the first time since the loss of his wife, it's because the hard-hearted captain was lured back to music by Julie Andrews’ innocent yet lusty nun/nanny, Maria. Through music, the Von Trapps communicate their joy, togetherness, and relation to their community. As Captain Von Trapp strums the chords to “Edelweiss” — a song about the Austrian flower of the same name — he reconnects with his children. His eldest daughter, his first child, the beautiful and innocent Liesl, joins him in crooning the words. “Edelweiss, edelweiss/Every morning you greet me/Small and white, clean and bright/You look happy to meet me...”
My partner and I share a bed with our baby. Every morning, I wake up to the sight of my son's excited eyes and pouty lips and the sound of his voice repeating “dadadada.” To embrace the overwhelming feeling of parenting in the first weeks of his life, I sang him the song in the early mornings as we learned to love each other. But in the background of all of this was the soundtrack of the TV. News of a world falling apart seemed to compete against the new one I was trying to build.
In the past month, the news has become unbearably bad. Nazis in America went from being a fringe group to mainstream. Following the election of Donald Trump — whose regressive values are decidedly un-American — racists and anti-Semites have become emboldened. When a group representing this hateful contingent shamelessly marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, the president of the United States spoke in support of them. The man in the government's highest office normalized white supremacy. When protesters chant, "Jews will not replace us" and the president responds, “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me,” it terrifies.
I am at least a third-generation American on all sides of my lineage. I am an activist. I am a new parent. My patriotism has been tested now more than ever before. We are in a time when those of us with integrity and conscience must defend the nation against itself by speaking up, protesting, and, in the absence of the ability to express ourselves in the streets, teaching our children songs of resistance.
The second time Georg sings “Edelweiss,” he has a much larger audience. He croons to his countrymen at the Salzburg Festival. With the song, he honors his homeland just as he and his family are about to flee the Nazi-occupied land.
“I would like to sing for you now a love song,” he says. “I know you share this love. I pray that you will never let it die.”
Captain Von Trapp’s voice cracks midsong when he realizes he might never return to the country he worked for his whole life, where he lived with his late wife and where his children were born. He loves his home, but he honors the values of his homeland more than the place itself. The people usurping power there do not share those values. He protested, but when his loved ones' lives were threatened, he had to leave.
Maria sees him falter and steps in to assist. They sing the rest as a family, and then the community joins them in song. Collectively, they say goodbye to the Austria they love, one they are uncertain will ever be rebuilt. “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow/Bloom and grow forever/Edelweiss, edelweiss/Bless my homeland forever.”
That scene has haunted me since the election.
I believe in the power of people, in protesting, in being subversive. I love the country where I was born, where my family has lived for generations, and where my son entered the world. After marching with my newborn, I know that our presence in the streets is imperative. But it has done little to mitigate the festering hatred that is spreading on the right. Our tweeter-in-chief isn’t just ignoring the well-being of the citizens he was elected to serve. He also encourages violence, whether it's by endorsing police brutality or the racist crowds in Charlottesville. Under this presidency, most of us are losing and might continue to lose a country that shares our values, replaced with a nation working against its best interests.
“Edelweiss” is more than just a show tune. It connects the experiences of Americans today with that of Georg Von Trapp’s in Nazi-occupied Austria. It shows what it feels like to be a patriot in a country under a tyrannical and oppressive rule. It demonstrates the universal desire to connect to community and demonstrate love of family even in times of political strife.
It's a lullaby I can sing to my baby to tell him to stand up for his values. A song that helps calm him because of its delicate tune and inspires in me the hope that my child will continue to fight the never-ending war against oppression. Once I'm done, I'll sing it again.
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