It seems to me that the prevailing ideology among the upper crust discourages gratitude more specific than generalized "proud to be an American" thinking. We're a nation of rugged individualists, the thinking goes, and people who end up with the successful Harvard applications and good jobs and well-appointed friends have come to believe that they have entirely earned their success. They don't consider how the institutions and foundations created by government -- and in the culture -- have made their success possible. What they're told, instead, is that they've been "free" to pursue that success. That's right, of course, but only partly.
Anne Applebaum takes a different tack, wondering why Americans hate today's elites so. But she ends up in roughly the same place:
The old Establishment types were resented, but only because their wealth and power were perceived as "undeserved." Those outside could at least feel they were cleverer and savvier, and they could blame their failures on "the system." Nowadays, successful Americans, however ridiculously lucky they have been, often smugly see themselves as "deserving." Meanwhile, the less successful are more likely to feel it's their own fault—or to feel that others feel it's their fault—even if they have simply been unlucky.
Then again, I'm not sure she's entirelyright on this; I agree there's an element of luck to all of this that falls outside the acknowledgement of today's Randian-flavored capitalist thinking. But maybe Americans also sense that what we today call "meritocracy" actually rewards a very, very narrow kind of merit: one in which 14-year-old freshmen -- and their parents -- decide the object of high school is to get great grades, participate and perform spectacularly in extracurricular activities and (generally) have their sites set on the person they want to be at 50 ... all at an age when most young people are still trying to decide who they are this week. Nail that down, be admitted to Harvard or Yale or Stanford, and your path in life can pretty much be set -- provided you don't go out of your way to fuck it up.
And if you do fuck it up -- if, say, you run the economy into the ground because you ran up billions of dollars in debt buying worthless mortgages, or if you oversaw and planned a disastrous war abroad that cost American lives and compromised American values -- well, you're rewarded ... so long as your fuck-up wasn't criminal in nature. Douglas Feith gets a stint at Georgetown; John Yoo at Berkeley. AIG executives get taxpayer-subsidized bonuses amounting to more in a year than most Americans earn over the course of a decade. There's no down button on the meritocracy elevator, in other words, which makes the whole thing seem less authentically meritocratic.
There are reasons for anti-elitism, in other words, even if the expression of it is sometimes misplaced. (Insert everybody's current favorite example, Ginni Thomas, who rails against the establishment from her sinecure at billionaire-funded rabble-rousing "think tank.") And Applebaum is right about one thing: Americans will probably always have an anti-elitist streak, no matter how the elites obtained their ranks. They're the elites, after all. They have the power and the money. We don't. That's enough reason to hate the bastards.