The United States tends not to parade its nuclear forces in public. Had Trump done so, the public would have seen not row upon row of new missiles, such as those that have appeared in recent Russian and Chinese parades, but rather a force of land- and sea-based missiles and bombers that date back to the late Cold War or its immediate aftermath.

The Independence Day military display, and its imaginary sequel, show that the Defense Department took a quarter-century respite from thinking seriously about the need to fight wars against capable adversaries. In the 1990s, it reveled in notions of the “unipolar moment” and the “end of history.” Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it was consumed with the need to defeat irregular adversaries who lacked the ability to contest U.S. supremacy in any domain of warfare. The need to win the wars the U.S. was already fighting took precedence over the responsibility to prepare for the very different wars America might have to fight in the future. As a result, the growth in military spending after the 9/11 attacks went to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than modernize the U.S. armed forces.