On the Future of the Time Capsules

Four years ago, the man on the left won 47.2% of the popular vote for president. When all of this year's votes are counted, the man on the right will probably come in slightly below that number. (Mike Segar / Reuters)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Back in May, I kicked off a Trump Time Capsule series, designed to note what we knew, when we knew it, about the man who was trying to become president. Earlier this month, just before the election, I wound up the series with installment #152.

From the beginning I imagined this as a temporary, moment-in-time project. To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether it would last beyond 10 or 15 entries. Now that the race is over and the reality of the 45th presidency is sinking in, every day I’ve received numerous notes like this one:

I saw a clip of Paul Ryan the other day, blithely dismissing concerns about Trump’s kids running his business and being part of the transition team. The thought occurred to me: This should be in the Trump Time Capsule.

Really, why did the Trump Capsule end? I know it was to record abnormal aspects of his campaign, but it was also a way to pressure and shame Republican leaders, by making them—and the public—fully cognizant of what they were supporting. I feel like we need that now. You’re still mentioning abnormal things that Trump is doing in the transition. I think it’s important for the public to know and to prod Republicans.

Also, if you would seriously consider restarting this, can make a suggestion? What about having a conservative/Republican join you in this? (Think of someone like Alan Simpson.) This would be a booster shot to the project, inoculating it against the liberal bias virus. This could give more authority to your observations. Actually, it’d be great if a group of journalists, politicians, academics from across the political spectrum could band together and speak in one voice on these issues.

Good question. Answer after the jump.


The pace and audacity of Donald Trump’s departures from norms, standards, and respect-for-office indeed merit an ongoing chronicle. Meeting with a foreign head of government, without any preparation or presence from a U.S. government official, or even his own interpreter? (But with his daughter, who has no official government position but has business interests in other countries, in the room?) Talking with other foreign leaders on unsecured phones? Still stonewalling on the tax returns? And meanwhile meeting partners from his operations in India, in his role as president-elect? Clutching his pearls when his running mate is booed, after all the spleen he has vented in public? And so on.

Someone should chronicle these things, but not me, at least not single-handed. Developments:

  • I have another, very different journalistic project coming up that represents my own reckoning of how I can best contribute to the next stage of America’s challenge and evolution;
  • Precisely because so much is coming so fast, for sustainability this needs to be a multi-person, shared-labor project. The Atlantic is considering the best way it could launch and maintain such an effort. Stay tuned, and feel free to send any suggestions to hello@theatlantic.com.
  • In the meantime, please check out, follow, and contribute to a very interesting Time Capsule project by @motocollard, which you can read about on Medium. It’s a spreadsheet account rather than an explanatory narrative, but it serves the crucial function of noting things down as they occur.

My respects and support to the many people who, in their roles as citizens and family members and in their working lives, are reflecting on the best course ahead. I’ll keep you updated on what The Atlantic is planning on this front. (And meanwhile, as always, please Subscribe! Seriously, supporting publications whose reporting you value is newly significant. Plus: the perfect gift!)