...I'm not sure why I listened to parts of the Republican convention. One thought that it prompts (viz. the chants of "USA, USA" that punctuated Romney's rather pedestrian speech) is that America is exceptional at least in the volume and insistence with which it proclaims its exceptional-ness. Attention to some of the literary roots or expressions of American exceptionalism might suggest something different: isn't one of the whole points of Owen Wister's Virginian precisely that he does not go around proclaiming how great he is?
P.s. I have a feeling I have made exactly this point before on this blog, but I'm too lazy to check. And if I can't exactly remember, I doubt anyone else will.
P.p.s. At least Clint Eastwood, whose reference to "mental masochism" inspired this post's title, did not do the exceptionalism thing, possibly because he was, to some extent, improvising. He did the "we own the country" thing and the "you are the best" thing, but not the "this country is superior to all others" thing.
P.p.p.s. (added later): I see Dan Balz at WaPo thought Eastwood was bizarre and a distraction. Maybe watching it on TV he was. Judging from just audio and no video, I found an unscripted 10 or 15 minutes kind of refreshing.