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.
This seems about right to me.
I made the mistake of commenting on a casual (read: we haven't seen each other in 15 years) Facebook friend's comment last week regarding how she thought that singing "God Bless America" at baseball games cheapened the ceremony of singing the actual National Anthem. Discussion proceeded into the etiquette of putting hand over heart during the two songs, etc. My contribution was that GBA is a silly song from a musical, and that I thought standing respectfully for the ceremonial playing of any country's national anthem was the polite thing to do (for example, at an NHL game with both American and Canadian teams playing) but that I thought saluting was absolutely optional.
As you might imagine, this invited some invective from friends of the "friend". Being a long-time veteran of online arguments, I did the sensible thing: pretended I never saw those comments, and got on with my life.
Still, one in particular almost drew me out. To paraphrase: "Try to imagine waking up in a different country, under a different flag." It was hard for me not to say that I had, on several occasions, woken up in different countries, and furthermore had no difficulty imagining doing so since I am married to someone who has that experience every day of her life, and who I know misses her home very much. I could have further answered that there were many times in the last 10 years or so where I thought waking up under another flag permanently myself wasn't such a bad idea. (I still wouldn't rule it out.)
Of course, the underlying assumption was that America is simply the greatest country on earth. That's a fine opinion to have, and easily justifiable--depending on what you value--but what I'll never understand is the conviction that to merely consider America among the best countries on earth is to be fundamentally "anti-American". America is a great country. So are Canada, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland, among others. But to suggest that the US actually has peers in terms of quality of life and freedoms enjoyed is to strike at the very heart of the "cultural valorization of 'American-ness'" on which so many seem to base their self-worth.
This is silly. No one suggests that liking tacos makes you necessarily "anti-sushi" or (perhaps more appropriately) that having friends makes you "anti-family".
But more than anything, I think it's just sad. Wilde said that patriotism is the virtue of vicious...but maybe it's just the virtue of those that don't find much else in which to take pride.