Vice President Pence and President Trump visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Monday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Once upon a time, Ayn Rand-reading, red-baiting Republicans denounced Soviet Russia as an evil superpower intent on destroying the American way of life.

My, how things have changed.

The Grand Old Party has quietly become the pro-Russia party — and not only because the party’s standard-bearer seems peculiarly enamored of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Republican leadership, the United States is starting to look an awful lot like the failed Soviet system the party once stood unified against.

Supposedly middle-class workers — people who have government jobs that are supposed to be stable and secure — are waiting in bread lines. Thanks to government dysfunction and mismanagement, those employed in the private sector may also be going hungry, since 2,500 vendors nationwide are unable to participate in the food stamp program while the government is shuttered and unable to renew licenses for the Electronic Benefit Transfer debit card program.

As Congress abdicates its role, columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. says voters must take up the role of checking President Trump. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Why? Because of the whims of a would-be autocrat who cares more about erecting an expensive monument to his own campaign rhetoric than about the pain and suffering of the little people he claims to champion.

And for now, at least, most of those little people are too frightened of the government’s wrath to fight back overtly. Instead, desperate to keep jobs that might someday offer them a paycheck again, the proletariat protest in more passive ways: by calling in sick in higher numbers.

The would-be autocrat surrounds himself with toadies who spend more time scheming against one another — sometimes to comic effect — than trying to offer their boss sound guidance or thoughtful policy solutions. In his presence, and perhaps especially when the cameras are on, they praise him relentlessly: his brains, his leadership, his “perfect genes.”

Sometimes they appear afraid to stop clapping, echoing stories of forced standing ovations for Joseph Stalin recounted in video footage and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago.”

Apparent corruption among these kowtowing aides — including improper use of public funds or private favors for fancy travel and other pampering — remains rampant. Unlike in true socialist states, it seems, our leaders haven’t run out of other people’s money.

Meanwhile, federal law enforcement is publicly directed to pursue the would-be autocrat’s political enemies, as well as the family members of those enemies, such as former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s father-in-law. Purges of law enforcement or other members of the “deep state” are also demanded, and sometimes acted upon. Such actions, when taken by thugs abroad, were once denounced by Republicans.

State-run media, or something closely approximating it, feeds the public a steady diet of pro-leader propaganda and shields viewers from news that might embarrass the head of state. Independent sources of information or accountability, or those who deviate from the party line, are branded “enemies of the people.”

On the macroeconomic front, leadership may be touting “deregulation” but in many ways is moving toward a more centrally planned economy, which includes the shielding of pet industries from the whims of the market or technological change.

That means propping up coal plants, which fracking has made less competitive. And slapping tariffs across thousands of foreign products, to subsidize struggling domestic competitors or sometimes to protect “national security.” And granting more price supports for farmers.

Just as government has inserted itself into more markets, though, it has abruptly stopped functioning, holding up the processing of those farmer subsidies or tariff exemptions. It’s the old Soviet model in a nutshell: promising much, interfering a lot, failing to deliver.

Perhaps providing proof of concept to President Dwight Eisenhower’s domino theory, our government has simultaneously encouraged more central planning by other economies, too.

This includes greater government-directed management of bilateral trade balances by China, the European Union and other countries, regardless of what individual businesses within those countries need or where they’d prefer to source from. While the Trump administration claims it wants China to move in a more market-oriented direction, it also wants it to promise that theoretically private Chinese companies will buy soybeans from the United States, and not Brazil, regardless of quality or price.

Needless to say, “picking winners and losers” was once a thing Republicans abhorred, a practice embraced only by failed socialist states; today the Republican standard-bearer picks winners and losers even within the government itself. The government may be officially shuttered, but President Trump decided to do an end run around the constitutionally mandated, democratic appropriations process. He is picking and choosing which government functions are allowed to function: yes to his offshore drilling plan and tax refunds; no to the Smithsonian museums.

All branches of government may be equal — but some, it seems, are more equal than others.

Read more:

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Hating the government won’t improve it

The Post’s View: Surprise! We need the federal government.

Paul C. Light: The shutdown has put a finger on the trigger of government failure. That should alarm you.

The Post’s View: Forget Donald Trump. Congress can make a deal to end the shutdown.

Karen Tumulty: Trump owns this shutdown debacle