Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will find a mixed reception when he gets to Washington a few days from now. Public opinion polls show that a substantial majority of Americans favor easier relations with the Soviet Union, and like the idea of the agreement to remove medium-range nuclear weapons from Western Europe. That accord is to be signed during the Gorbachev visit in early December.
But if Mr. Gorbachev doesn't understand, he should be told that there are many Americans who, for personal, ideological, and ethnic reasons, resent his visit, resent the idea of any agreement being signed with his country, and will boo him or walk out on him if they have a chance.
They would do this because they are from or represent substantial groups of voters with special reasons to resent the Soviet Union. Some congressmen and senators are members of such groups.
Take, for example, the Polish group. There are nearly 8.5 million Americans of Polish origin. Most are second- or third-generation Poles. Most live in the big industrial cities of the Northeast. They are politically active. They bitterly resent fact that Poland is living under a Soviet-imposed military dictatorship.
There are similar groups from every country that Moscow dominates - nearly 3 million Czechs, nearly 2 million Hungarians, etc.
Each one of these groups believes the United States should use whatever leverage it has with Moscow to obtain the liberation of their ethnic homelands from Soviet domination. They regard it as wicked to make an agreement that is not conditional on such liberation.
Religion enters the equation in several ways. The Soviet Union is against religion. There are antireligious museums - usually in former churches. Religious practice is severely restrained, causing many Americans to think of the Soviets as practicing ``godless communism.'' This, in turn, makes the Soviet Union the object of hatred, particularly among evangelicals.
The US Lithuanian community is small but vocal. It resents both the fact that its country has been annexed into the Soviet Union, and also Soviet harassment of its church (Roman Catholic) which, as in Poland, is deeply associated with nationalism.
Jews have two grievances against the Soviet state. One is that its behavior is tinged with consistent anti-Semitism. The other is that it denies free emigration to the Soviet Jewish community.
The American Jewish community is smaller than the Polish, roughly 6 million Jews in the US. But it is the most effectively organized ethnic group in the US and exercises powerful political influence. If the US Jewish community had its way, any agreement with the Soviets would be contingent on the grant of free emigration for all Soviet Jews.
Soviets tend sometimes to assume that most US hostility toward them comes from the ``capitalist classes.'' Most Americans certainly prefer the private ownership and private initiative economic system to the state ownership and state management system. But ``capitalist'' disapproval of the Soviet system is less important politically than the fact of Soviet domination over so many countries and peoples.
Anti-Soviet feelings in the US spring from many sources. Ideology is an important part. Religion is another. But strongest of all is resentment of Soviet territorial expansion and the assumption that the Soviets will always be an expansionist force.
It follows from the above that while the Gorbachev visit is expected to include the signing of an arms control agreement, it is not likely to go much further toward another ``d'etente.''
The first d'etente, concluded by Richard Nixon, carried with it an expectation on the part of the general American public that the Soviet Union would cease and desist from expansionism, and would mitigate its treatment of the countries it ruled. That is why the invasion of Afghanistan blew the first d'etente out of the water.
A US president is capable of concluding a limited arms control agreement with the Soviets, but only at a political price. He has to do it against the active resistance of powerful political organizations of which the most important are not business, banking, or manufacturing lobbies, but lobbies of the people from the countries the Soviet state has overrun and the communities it has offended, particularly the religious communities.
All of which is why the US-Soviet summit to take place in Washington beginning on Dec. 7 will be a limited affair with little to show towards a second d'etente. Some future president may be able to move in that direction, but only if between now and then the Soviet empire recedes rather than expands.