Donald Trump just failed the first test of his presidential bona fides since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.
He seized on the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 to speculate and demogogue long before all the facts were known. Only hours after the plane disappeared on its way from Paris to Cairo, and well before authorities had reached anything like a conclusion about what happened to it, Trump tweeted the following:
The reference to Paris suggests that Trump wanted to draw a link between the plane, believed to have crashed in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Paris terror attacks late last year. It was after those attacks that Trump made his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Egyptian authorities said later Thursday that terrorism was a likelier explanation than a technical failure in the EgyptAir disaster. They stressed that the disappearance was still under investigation.
At the time of Trump’s tweet, though, there was no public information that conclusively suggested that terrorism had anything to do with the jet's disappearance. High-profile public officials have a duty not to jump to conclusions, especially in times of crisis.
Even if authorities conclude that terrorists took down the plane, it won't validate the recklessness of Trump’s speculation. Reactions like his have the potential to foment Islamophobia and hostility toward Muslims living in the United States.
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pointed out the problem with the quick reaction:
"The things you learn fairly early when you have responsibility is how often initial reports or information you get on a situation prove to be inaccurate," he said. "And the demands of the media and so on, there’s always pressure to immediately react before you know what’s really going on. And that’s a discipline a lot of politicians frankly don’t have. At least until they have responsibility.”