My Mother’s Message to Trump: “You Want Respect? You Give Respect.”

Steve Villano
4 min readMay 13, 2024

My mother was a beautiful Italian woman of great dignity, faith and courage. She was born during the Polio Epidemic of 1915–16, and paralyzed on one side of her body. She considered herself fortunate that it wasn’t worse.

When she saw other “Polio children” in the Crippled Children’s Home where she spent several months–living their lives in Iron Lungs because they could not breathe–my mother was grateful that she only lost the use of one arm.

From her earliest days, my mother faced hateful discrimination because of her disability. Her father, an ignorant, arrogant, bull-headed, demeaning, macho-man — much like Donald Trump — told her she’d never get a job or get married because of her “limp” arm.

As a “polio” child born in the Italian neighborhood of Greenwich Village, NYC public health restrictions kept her out of public swimming pools. When she was sent upstate New York to a New York Times “Fresh Air Fund” camp for disabled children, she noticed signs in front of private camps throughout the Catskills which read: “NO POLIO CHILDREN ALLOWED.”

My mother taught herself to swim in the waters off Coney Island, using her “one good arm”, and raised and diapered four children in the days when diapers were made of cloth, and all washing was done by hand. She never complained, nor cursed her disability, even when my father went off to World War II to fight Fascism and she was left alone, to care for three children, with her youngest still in diapers.

My mother never lived in a mansion, never was driven to school in a rose-colored Rolls Royce, and never received millions from her father, as Donald Trump did, nor did she ever delight in calling people names or insulting them. She was a devout Catholic until the moment of her death in 2007, and believed in the kind of all loving God that Pope Francis has preached about over the last few years. Money never mattered much to my mother; human dignity, kindness, caring and love were the sources of her wealth. Her life-long disability made her even more sensitive to all kinds of human frailties.

I’ve thought of my mother often over the past several years as Trump’s toxic cruelty has taken hold in this country. I channeled her anger when when the shrivel-souled beast who mocked disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski was elected President in 2016. My mother, loving and forgiving as she was, would have been outraged.

“You miserable son-of-a-bitch,” I imagined her yelling at the television each time she watched the video replay of Donald Trump mocking Kovaleski or discriminating against anyone “different.” “You should be forced to spend time in a Crippled Children’s Home to see people struggling to live each day with a disability.”

My mother’s political hero was FDR because he showed the world how a person with a disability — Polio, specifically — could accomplish great things for others. When FDR helped launch the “March of Dimes” to raise vast sums of money for Polio research, my mother sent off her annual contribution of dimes with a religious fervor for decades. With FDR fighting for a cure, surely one would be found, she told us. She was proven right in 1954, when Dr. Jonas Salk discovered the Polio Vaccine, some 60 years after the virus was first identified. Her faith in scientific advancement, medical research and vaccines was unshakeable.

My mother isn’t alive today to call Donald Trump a miserable son-of-bitch, for making fun of the disabled, dehumanizing women and for his blatant bigotry against immigrants and communities of color, ethic or sexual difference. So, I will carry-on for her. This son of a courageous Polio survivor thinks Trump is a miserable son-of-a-bitch, and a shrivel-souled creature of the lowest order. And the cretins who enable and support him are no better.

My mother fought meanness and cruelty every single day of her life, persisting on the strength of her sheer will and refusal to give up. She fought bigots and brutes every time they reared their ugly faces or philosophies. She never, ever lost hope.

On this Mother’s Day, it’s in the spirit of such an indefatigable battler against bullies, that I’ll continue her fight, against Trump, and any other miserable son-of-a-bitch like him, who seek to make themselves larger by picking on those more vulnerable.

My mother’s mantra lives on, some 17 years after her death with great dignity: You want respect? You give respect.

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