You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism—a collectivization of the means of self-esteem production. You don’t have to graduate from an Ivy or make a lot of money to feel proud or special about being an American; you don’t have to do a damn thing but be born here. Cultural valorization of “American-ness” relative to other status markers, then, is a kind of redistribution of psychological capital to those who lack other sources of it. ~Julian Sanchez
You could think of it that way, but that would confuse patriotism with a popular expression of national identity and commitment to a triumphalist Americanism. As I was trying to say the other day, the obtuse boastfulness of American exceptionalism is not patriotism. Indeed, if we follow Chesterton’s understanding of patriotism, it is something alien and hostile to patriotism. It is certainly hostile to the patriotism Prof. Lukacs described in his biography of Kennan, the love in spite of, which leads the patriot to love his country even if he finds much of it to be flawed. Put another way, enthusiasts for American exceptionalism seem to love America because they see it as great and supreme, and there is the possibility that they might cease loving it if it were no longer great and supreme. When Americans say that ours is the greatest country in the history of the world, it is obviously not just a description of how they think America compares, but a claim that they must be in some way the greatest people in the history of the world by virtue of being Americans. It is self-glorification masquerading as praise of something else.
To rephrase Sanchez’s observation in terms of power, celebrating Americanness and congratulating ourselves for “our” greatness are ways for those who feel relatively powerless to see themselves as participating in U.S. global hegemony and American “leadership” in the world. This may help explain why enthusiasts of American exceptionalism on the right have become even more attached to the empire at the moment when conditions at home have worsened and America can least afford so many unnecessary commitments around the globe. It is also why there is such intense resistance to the reality that America is experiencing relative decline in its political preeminence compared with other nations. If there is relative decline, conservative Americanists insist that it is only temporary and the result of a government that does not embrace American exceptionalism, which they then have to define narrowly so as to exclude many moderate and liberal Americanists who otherwise share their assumptions.