Flags are everywhere at the Olympics, but the games are not about international strife. There, patriotism trumps nationalism, and performance eclipses politics. The Olympics highlight the fact that individuals, not governments, make countries great.
During the games, governments are no longer the faces of their countries. We care more about what a 16-year-old girl is doing on the ice than that the vice president is in the stands. In fact, the only spectators we care about are the very ordinary families of the competitors.
The Olympics remind us that people are not creatures of the state. As predictable as the television fluff pieces are, they help us recognize that the competitors are our fellow human beings. The athletes have worked incredibly hard and accomplished great things, certainly, but they have stories, too. Even if the interviews need subtitles, we see all the athletes not as foreigners but as individuals.
And that is the way it should be. Individuals act. Individuals achieve. Government, at its best, merely provides a framework to allow human beings to flourish, then recedes into the background. Government is the Zamboni. We are the athletes. The Zamboni needs to lay down a smooth surface of ice — and then get out of the way of the skaters.