It's silly to think that there was a time when being 1 trillion in debt was considered a very bad thing that needed to be rectified at all costs. It was a time when people were a bit more conscious of that sort of thing and I don't know what has changed in the meantime because The United States is already well over $20 trillion in debt at this point and it doesn't look like anyone is really all that interested in changing that.
The year was 1981
While I was too young to know about it, or to care, or to even have a concept of how massive a number like a trillion is, I do remember Ronald Reagan, because it seemed as though everyone liked him. He was a very charismatic person and he easily won both of his terms in office. I would later find out that one of the things that Ronald ran on as a Republican was speaking out publicly against deficit spending... only to do a rapid about-face once he was in office.
While Reagan's initial expenses were actually the budget of Carter, he didn't follow through on his promises of not engaging in deficit spending (imagine that? A politician that lies)
Reagan encouraged Congress to spend more on the military and to cut taxes and this resulted in increasing the national debt nearly 200% during his time in office. Ouch, that's pretty bad right? Well, the people after him didn't do much better.
Keeping in mind that I wasn't alive for most of the left part of this chart it kind of seems as though we were a bit more financially minded back prior to the late 70's. A more of a "live within our means" type of nation. The various parties will throw this statistic or that out there and twist the numbers to try to make Bill Clinton look like a saint and demonize W Bush for their spending but the fact of the matter remains, right around the early 80's the leadership of the United States stopped giving a damn about out-of-control spending.
The last sensible spender?
The United States hasn't seen a budget surplus (taking in more tax than they spend) since friggin Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House in '57.
Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were no saints in this department, but Reagan started a really bad tradition in politics that continues to this day. It really doesn't seem to matter whether or Donkey or an Elephant is in the big office, spending with reckless abandon seems to be the name of the game on all sides.
If, as a politician, you dare speak out against spending, like Ron and Rand Paul did, you get labeled as a lunatic who wants to take away the free stuff - I mean, how insane is that?
Sadly, it is higher than this now
These days, whenever you hear a politician from any party other than Libertarian speaking, all they do is make promises about changing this and that, or cutting taxes for various segments of society, or providing "economic stimulus" packages, or various other programs like free college and healthcare etc, but you don't really hear anyone talking about how any of this is going to be paid for.
Even more, you don't really hear anyone talk about how even if we added absolutely nothing new as giveaways to entice voters... anyone who takes on the office is going to be staring down the barrel of an immediate near $1 trillion loss each year, before they even try to deliver on any of their economically-impossible promises.
at what point are we not even capable of paying the interest anymore? Maybe that's when a Libertarian can get elected
Telling people that we either have to cut this or that or that people are going to have to pay more taxes doesn't exactly win votes, so I think we are going to see this tradition of promises and crafty lies continue in perpetuity.
I'm not trying to blame a party as I am not a fan or a member of either of the major ones, but if you look at any chart it is pretty easy to understand that right about the early 80's this debt line began an upward trajectory that it is extremely unlikely to ever recover from - it's just gone too far.
While borrowing on the part of government certainly didn't begin with Reagan, it hit a milestone that taught a lot of people a new word, an amount of money so staggering that you could take the combined wealth of the richest individuals in the world and not even make a dent in it.
ah the 80's.... good times.