The rival media ecosystem chose cash over truth also. It could have responded to the last election by looking harder at the tensions they didn’t see coming in Trump’s America, which might have meant a more intense examination of the problems that gave Trump his opening: the jobs that never came back after bankers and retailers decided to move them to unfree labor zones in places like China, the severe debt and addiction crises, the ridiculous contradiction of an expanding international military garrison manned by a population fast losing belief in the mission, etc., etc.
Instead, outlets like CNN and MSNBC took a Fox-like approach, downplaying issues in favor of shoving Trump’s agitating personality in the faces of audiences over and over, to the point where many people could no longer think about anything else. To juice ratings, the Trump story — which didn’t need the slightest exaggeration to be fantastic — was more or less constantly distorted.
Trump began to be described as a cause of America’s problems, rather than a symptom, and his followers, every last one, were demonized right along with him, in caricatures that tickled the urbane audiences of channels like CNN but made conservatives want to reach for something sharp. This technique was borrowed from Fox, which learned in the Bush years that you could boost ratings by selling audiences on the idea that their liberal neighbors were terrorist traitors. Such messaging worked better by far than bashing al-Qaeda, because this enemy was closer, making the hate more real.