I've made many American friends via the internet (and before that, youth exchanges), they're not zealous, arrogant and racist at all. I've found Americans to be very open, extremely nice, and very easy to get along with.
However.....that is NOT the message you're sending out to the world. I've come to make a difference between the Americans I know and Americans 'in general', how I see them from how the US is portraying itself:
1. God Bless America! (and f*** everyone else). Every time I hear that sentence, I shudder. What makes America so much better that America should be the 'blessed' place and not the rest of the world?
2. We're the greatest country on earth. By saying that, you make people focus on all the bad things. You don't expect others to say, "yeah, you're the greatest", do you? Of course people will counter that statement by pointing out all the bad things about America.
American nationalism comes across as gloating. And when you stick out your tongue at others, "nana, we won!", then you can hardly call the negative feelings other have towards you as unfounded. All that flag waving, singing the national anthem at every turn, that pledge of allegiance thingie in schools, you can hardly call that humble, can you? What I've noticed is that to many Americans these things are so normal, that they presume it's like that everywhere else in the world. I remember the reaction of an American to the question of a Belgian journalist about the American flag in his garden, "well, I have an American flag in my garden, just like you surely have a Belgian flag in your garden." Erh, no, we don't. We don't have little Belgian flags waving on the roof of our cars, we don't have Belgian flags in our front yard. We hardly know our national anthem, the word Belgium and God are never uttered in the same sentence. When we first visited the US, we wanted to go to church on Sunday. We entered a church, the first things we heard was people singing "America America", we left right away. To the outside world, Amercian nationalism is considered very extreme and arrogant. Judging by the reaction of Americans I know, they don't see it as arrogant at all, because it's because it's become so normal. So in a sense, Americans don't mean to be arrogant, but they do come across as such. Part of the reason is probably that it's not balanced by a healthy dosis of self-humour and self-criticism. People don't mind Australian or British nationalism as much, because they're able to laugh at themselves. E.g. the difference between the reaction of the American relay swimming team after they won gold at the olympics vs. the Australian skater who unexpectedly won gold. That's what the world sees.
We're being bombarded with American movies that portray the Americans as the goodies who're going to save the world and other nationalities as baddies. Just think of the number of films in which the Brits are stereotyped as stuck-up aristrocrats who have no life, who never laugh, until a free-spirited American comes along and changes all that
Then there's one film where it's the other way around (Love Actually) and I hear all these people cry that the film is Anti-American.
3. the foreign policies of the US. International laws seem to apply to everyone except for the US. The US is lecturing the world about allowing free trade, yet as soon as the steel industry isn't going too well, the US turns out to be just as protectionist as the rest. We all make mistakes, confessing to making them is the hardest bit of all, but oh so important. Because the US refuses to admit to past mistakes, we're not convinced the same mistakes won't be made again. I realise that in the American press, amongst American people, there is a lot of criticism and those issues are being adressed, what's officially relayed to the world is always without criticism, always firm, "we're right, you were wrong."