BEIJING — In a courtyard house in Beijing, I teach the future Chinese elite the past failings of America. My history students, all Chinese, are bright high school seniors on course to study at top Western universities. AP U.S. history is a perpetually oversubscribed course at the after-school academy, pulling in five times the numbers of its European equivalent. But in the past few months, the rise of Donald Trump has given a worryingly eschatological feeling to the class, as if we were living through a long-predicted apocalypse.

In teaching history, it’s hard to escape the shadow of Trump. When we talked about the Founding Fathers’ fear of demagogues and the fickle mob, he was there. When we talked about the Know-Nothings, the anti-immigrant party of the late 1840s, or the fever of anti-Chinese hatred in California in the 1880s, he was there. When we talked about the wartime panic that marched Japanese families into internment camps as potential terrorists, he was there.

I just hope the world is done with him by the time we get to the civil rights movement, or he’ll be there in every picture of hateful faces screaming at black children.

Racism is the single hardest part of the American experience for idealistic Chinese teenagers to grasp. China has plenty of ethnic prejudices of its own, but it has nothing that matches the poison of chattel slavery and its aftermath.

Chinese historiography, as taught in schools and absorbed through media, is crudely Marxist; when I asked my students which factor determined voting preference more than any other in the United States, three-quarters of them said class – none said race. A gulf between the wealthy and the masses makes instinctive sense to them; they see it in the streets and hear it in their parents’ discussions every day. Race doesn’t.

In fairness, nor does a lot of U.S. politics. One of my favorite techniques is to find the most ridiculous parts of the system and unpick their historical origins with the class.

There’s a particular “Wait, what!” face my kids make – something like a confused owl – when confronted with yet another absurdity, whether it’s gerrymandering, filibustering, or the fact that Wyoming, with about as many people as the average Beijing district, has as many senators as California, with about as many people as the average Chinese province.

The ability to believe in America has taken a battering over the last two decades. The debacle of Iraq, followed by the global financial crisis – inevitably, and not unfairly, referred to by Chinese media as the “U.S.-caused financial crisis” – took the shine off American glory. That wasn’t helped by some Chinese dissidents hailing neoconservative ideals, such as future Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo, who wrote a cringingly awful essay backing the Iraq War called “Victory to the Anglo-American Freedom Alliance.”

But at the same time, as China’s emerging urban rich began to engage with the United States more directly, the country started to play an even greater part in the public imagination.

Suddenly America was somewhere you could go on holiday to, where your kids went to school, where you might plan an escape from polluted air and sink the $500,000 needed for an investment visa into a business of your own.

I don’t want students to come away from my class disillusioned with the United States or pessimistic about its future.

I think of myself like a Jesuit scholar teaching biblical criticism at seminary; I want them to be believers, but I want them to be smart believers.

I teach them America’s failings because I want them to understand how remarkable its successes are; how amazing it is that a ragtag nation, born in tar and feathers and whips and chains, could mean something 200 years later to a man in a Chinese prison looking at the sun.

And I want them to understand the kind of women and men who did those things, who fought daily in the pursuit of unlimited ends – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – with limited means.

I want them to understand how hard and tiring it was and how many people never saw the promised land. I want them to know how flawed and broken many of those people were, how many of them were drunks or racists or just given to waving their junk on Air Force One. I want them to know these things because I want them to fight for the same things in another great country when they’re adults.

And so I hope that I can keep believing in the United States after Tuesday evening, because I want them to believe in it, too.

— Foreign Policy