In late January 2018, 12 months into the Donald Trump era, the military scholar Eliot Cohen looked back at an assessment he had written for The Atlantic in late January 2017, soon after Trump was sworn in.
In his second piece, Cohen pointed out that for most writers, most of the time, the prospect of revisiting old works of journalistic analysis is uninviting. Journalism is the process of offering the best interpretation you can by deadline time. By definition, you know more when you look back than you did when you were hammering away to meet the deadline. More about the basic facts, more about what happened next, more about the context of the events you were doing your best, under time pressure, to comprehend. In nearly all cases, the passing days or weeks have given you ideas of better, sharper ways in which you could have made your point.
This is why newspaper articles, blog posts, and tweets generally aren’t, or shouldn’t be, collected in books. They are valuable as slice-of-time samplings of what people thought, wondered, feared, or assumed from the facts then available to them. (It was explicitly in this slice-of-time spirit that I put together my Trump Time Capsule series over the course of the 2016 campaign.) The existence of a whole special vocabulary for insights you wish you’d had the first time around—pentimento for the sketches beneath finished paintings, esprit de l’escalier for the devastating repartee you think of 10 minutes too late, the term rough draft itself—illustrates the tension between expressing things as quickly as possible, and expressing them as well as you would like.